Sally Burton: Pale History

Where: PATAKA Art + Museum, Cnr Parumoana and Norrie St, Porirua - Mana, Wellington Region

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

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Listed by: rachel8mp

Sculptures Evoke One of NZ’s Little Known Conflicts.

Ten haunting wooden sculptures by artist Sally Burton form the heart of Pale History, an exhibition opening at Porirua’s Pataka: Art + Museum on 16 December. These evocative figures represent some of the 26-people killed in the 1843 Wairau incident, a bloody clash over land rights in the Wairau between colonial settlers and Ngāti Toa, Porirua’s own iwi.

It was the first violent conflict between Māori and Pākehā since the signing of the Treaty, an event most New Zealanders know little about but one that changed history.

Pale History curator Sarah McClintock says Burton draws our attention to history as an unfixed story. “The history we are told is often a paler version of the reality,” she says, “Burton’s strength is her uncompromised approach to interpreting the best and worst of our pale history”.

Sally Burton lives near Nelson on Cotterell Rd, named for the young surveyor, John Cotterell who was the unwitting catalyst for the conflict. Burton says she often found herself thinking about Cotterell, a 23-year-old pacifist and Quaker who lost his life in the struggle.

Ngati Toa leader, Te Rauparaha had burned down Cotterell’s hut, built on the disputed land. This was the third time the chief had tried to evict settlers from the area. Cotterell’s report of the event triggered the unrest, with tragic outcomes.

Driftwood washed down the Wairau River near Burton’s home was used to create the figures. She sees the wood as bones… “evoking the people who were at the Wairau on that fateful day… I like to think perhaps the trees were growing when the men were alive, which gives the figures a poignant edge”.

Burton, who has been a long-term judge for the World of Wearable Arts, says the heads, hair and clothing of each figure are made from tapa cloth, giving a South Pacific context. She created the facial expressions using colonial artist Isaac Coates’ portraits, which will also be in the exhibition.

A constellation of stars created from survey pegs and antique survey chain is also part of the show. It represents the timing of the conflict, during Matakari.

Please note Sunday opening hours are: 11am - 4:30pm

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