Landforms: depicting the contours of Aotearoa

Sarah Williams, 'More than meets the eye' & 'More flexible than a Swiss Army Knife', 2014,  The University of Waikato Art Collection
Date Monday 13 March - Friday 9 June 2023
Where Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts Main Gallery
Presenter Curated by Hester Rowan
Contact Cerys Davidson
Contact email
Admission Cost Free

In Aotearoa, we have an abundance of landforms; audacious geographical features which define our country. The ocean laps at all sides, scooping out bays and narrow fingers of peninsula, with the mountains of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana the Southern Alps surging upwards to dominate the length of Te Waipounamu the South Island. Here in Kirikiriroa, the Waikato river slices its way through the city and Pirongia stands proudly on the horizon. Given the number and magnitude of these striking shapes, it is no surprise that Aotearoa’s landforms have often taken centre stage in art.

In the 1800s the main aim of images of Aotearoa’s landscape was to aid the colonising mission. Rather than highlighting the unique geography of Aotearoa, visiting British artists frequently reorganised the local geography to make it appear more picturesque. Rita Angus’ distinctive graphic style captures the contours of the mid-1900s Canterbury landscape with a stark boldness that is very different from the picturesque depictions of the previous century. Belonging to the following generation of artists, Don Binney and Michael Smither also employ a simplified, graphic style to highlight the strong contrasts and imposing forms in our country. However, the very concept of the aesthetic landscape is imported from Europe. In te ao Māori, the land is Papatūānuku and people, plants and animals are all descendants of Papatūānuku and Ranginui.

Landforms explores how the bold forms that first appeared in paintings of Aotearoa in the mid-1900s have continued to influence the way our country’s geography is depicted in art. This collection of works calls into question what representations of Aotearoa’s landscape highlight, as well as what they fail to consider.