Joan Gragg: The Nuku

11 April - 6 May 2023 Bergman Gallery, Rarotonga


The Cook Islands Nuku Pageant is an annual cultural experience, where traditional Bible stories are adapted, improvised, and performed live by Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC) village congregations. In true Cook Islands style, humour, reverence, home made costumes, modern props and island wit permeate a lively community performance unlike any other.  Any subject can be the inspiration of a Nuku performance, from everyday local incidents to international events, legends, movies and music. Māori is the language of choice. There is no written script, and everyone can join irrespective of religious beliefs. The audience can join the players if they are stirred to join in.


Humour and laughter are very close to the surface in the Cook Islands and are a central theme of this artist. Joan states, ' Humour in the Cook Islands rarely springs from malice or superiority but tends to be inclusive and equalising. My art focuses on fun while doing everyday things, which make the Cook Islands a special place to live. Like so many community initiatives, the Nuku depends on good will, pride, fun, comradery, co-operation and love, to make it happen. I am always amazed to see how effortless it looks when the community gets together to organize special occasions like the Nuku, Te Maeva Nui, wedding feasts, and a host of other Island celebrations. The preparation becomes a celebration itself.


Exploring aspects of humour and place through the Nuku has made me increasingly aware that the Cook Islands is a multi-cultural society and becoming more so every year. The integration of two traditions, recognition of the consequent incongruities and an acceptance of these incongruities is a distinctive feature of the Cook Islands today. The freedom to laugh comes from the understanding of this duality, by recognising the differences and similarities, there is always an opportunity to celebrate with understanding.'