Jacqueline Fraser

Te Wai Pounamu: the burial of our people

17 March 2012 - 10 June 2012

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Big Wall projects, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery has reinstalled Jacqueline Fraser’s Te Wai Pounamu: the burial of our people.  This work was the first project made for this series.  Originally created for the opening of the newly located Gallery in the Octagon in May 1996, this massive installation is the only site specific Big Wall work that has been added to the Gallery’s collection to date.  The work’s title and imagery makes clear reference to this Dunedin-born artist’s geographical and cultural lineage.  Te Wai Pounamu is the Maori name for the South Island.  Pounamu is greenstone - the legendary treasure of the South Island Maori.

Te Wai Pounamu: the burial of our people represents both sides of Fraser’s dual cultural heritage: Kai Tahu on her mother’s side, Scottish on her father’s.  The central section features a group of eleven figures, representing the generations of Maori people buried in the South Island.  Two flanking shrines present British, mostly Scottish, motifs – crowns, thistle, Celtic crosses, lilies, deer antlers and birds – along with representations of New Zealand birds: kingfisher, heron, mutton bird and albatross.

The images are drawn using wire and veiled in delicate fabrics – organza, paisley georgette and chiffon.  The work recalls the “early Maori figurative art” from the late nineteenth century, where Maori artists incorporated European imagery, techniques and materials into their work.  It also fuses Maori textile traditions with European handicrafts, utilizing these elements as both a means to reconnect with the past and rethink the relationship between art and craft.  It is a combination that also serves to comment on the way new forms and techniques are established when two cultures meet, a merger that can also lead to cultural losses.  Fraser has stated with respect to this work that she wishes to celebrate the treasures brought by the Europeans, but also acknowledge the costs of contact.

Jacqueline Fraser (b 1956 New Zealand)
Te Wai Pounamu: the burial of our people
1996  Mixed media
Collection of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  
Commissioned in 1996 with funds from the
Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society and an anonymous donor.

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