Aotearoa Art Fair, a celebration of Pacific Art

Rachel Smith

There’s a particular moment when a decision is made to purchase a piece of art. It can begin with a glance, a connection between the viewer and the work that invites a closer look. It can develop over time, an emotion evoked by the image and its story. Then there is the decision itself, the joy in knowing that this piece of art will be present to view every day. Such are the moments that mark the Aotearoa Art Fair.


The range of work at this year’s art fair is extensive and varied, 40 galleries and 180 artists participating in the five-day event. The art fair is important business for the galleries and artists involved; in 2021 the art fair had sales of more than NZ$10 million with over 7000 visitors attending.


 “Proceeds of the art sold go entirely to the artists and their galleries, making the Fair a significant cultural and economic event for visual arts in Aotearoa, especially at a time when artists and galleries have been impacted by recent global events,” said Stephanie Post and Hayley White, Aotearoa Art Fair co-directors, following the 2021 fair.


Bergman Gallery returns to the art fair for the fifth time, again the only representative from the Pacific Islands. The gallery’s stand is substantial and the line-up of artists is impressive, some familiar names that have shown with the gallery previously and others that are taking part in the art fair for the first time.


The day before the official opening on Wednesday 16 November and The Cloud on Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s waterfront is a busy place. Over the next 24 hours the blank walls of each gallery stand will be transformed. At Bergman Gallery, the feature presentation, Nga Meka – Tui Kura from Cook Islands vaine Tungane Broadbent and Reuben Paterson from Aotearoa New Zealand, is the first to be hung. The walls fill with colour – florals in fabric and glitter that hold the eye, demand the viewer to stop and marvel at Broadbent’s intricate tivaivai and the lush wonder of Paterson’s extravagant florals. This is the second time the artists have been paired, the first, Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday, at Bergman Gallery in 2017.


“The pairing of Tungane Broadbent and Reuben Paterson is an intriguing blend of dualities. They would seem to have little in common yet when you combine their distinct artforms, these differences while at once highlighted, are cause for celebration,” says Ben Bergman, Gallery Director. “In Nga Meka – Tui Kura, artists have together constructed a metaphorical garden of flowers to deliver their narrative. Both artists are avid gardeners themselves. From any garden comes an appreciation of nature, its beauty and fragility. Gardens are complex micro ecosystems, they require time and patience, love, respect, and consideration. They can teach us much about ourselves. These pillars underpin the foundation of this presentation.”


Broadbent’s tivaivai are a testament to her more than 50 years of the art practice. Her tivaivai manu (two tone) and tataura (embroidery), feature kaute, orchid, tiare Māori, Christmas Lily and flamboyants. Each is impeccably stitched and detailed, their beauty heightened by the understanding of the hours that Broadbent has spent with this fabric in her hands. The tivaivai is framed by Paterson’s glitter works, a technique specific to the artist that has been developed over his long career. Alongside the tropical florals and foliage are Aotearoa New Zealand’s native plants and flowers: raupō, harakeke, kākābeak/ngutu kākā.


“The New Zealand flora in these new paintings have been chosen for their declared spiritual energy. The artist has even had physical remedies created from these plants and literally imbued them into the canvases they represent. For Paterson, this is an essential element, these paintings don’t just depict these plants and flowers, they contain their healing and spiritual essence,” says Bergman.


Works for the group show, which make up the second half of the gallery’s stand, are carefully unwrapped and decisions made by the gallery team – Bergman, joined by Julian Zeman Media Partner, Benny Chan Manager of the Auckland gallery and Jade Cavalcante from SCAPE Public Art – on how each work will be displayed.


The group show has a strong focus on Cook Islands vaine, with Mahiriki Tangaroa, Sylvia Marsters and Nina Oberg Humphries, alongside artists Raymond Sagapolutele, Telly Tuita, Shannon Novak, Benjamin Work, Gavin Jones, Heather Straka, and Sēmisi Fetokai Potauaine in the outdoor sculpture space. Both Tangaroa and Marsters have coinciding solo shows – Tangaroa’s Kaveinga – Angels of the Ocean showing as part of Personal Structures in Venice, and Marsters’ E Moemoea Naku – A Dream of Mine, at Bergman Gallery Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.


For Tangaroa, this year marks the fourth time she has exhibited at the art fair with Bergman Gallery. “The works on exhibition at the art fair have become notable visual records of discussions, feelings and debate which circulated during our Covid period here in the Cook Islands. It was an intense time, whereas a vulnerable small island nation, we opened our borders to visitors, friends and family from Aotearoa. With thanks, we’re now on the road to social and economic recovery,” she says.


Marsters’ work at the art fair include her noted paintings of tiare taina and kaute. “Floral paintings express my relationship with ipukarea, my ancestral home – hibiscus, primarily for their iconic representation of the Pacific Islands, and gardenia, an obsession throughout my art practice. For me they capture the vaerua, spirit, of the Cook Islands,” says Marsters. “As an artist of Polynesian heritage, it’s important to me, that my work is represented by a gallery located within the Pacific Islands region. Bergman Gallery is very aware of its role in representing contemporary Pacific art with respect, knowledge and integrity.”

Oberg Humphries flies in on Tuesday afternoon from Ōtautahi Christchurch, bringing her art works with her. Her circular intricate moulded works, constructed from FIMO and finished in automotive spray, glisten against the white backdrop. Hung alongside are her staff god sculptures. “Tāura atua were representative of family members or gods associated with a particular practice,” explains Oberg Humphries. Traditionally used to provide strength and guidance, these specific tāura atua were created without any particular person in mind, instead inspired by the artists feelings in that moment and the memories triggered by the ‘found’ Pasifika material used in their construction.


Crowds form early outside The Cloud for the VIP opening on Wednesday morning. Artist Tuita is interviewed by One News in front of his painting, Pulp Fiction – Avenue of Palms. Tuita explains that the work is influenced by a scene from Mozart’s The Magic Flute with details referencing his home of Tonga, including the use of many ngatu designs.

Over the next few days, thousands of people move through the art fair, many returning multiple times. At the Bergman Gallery stand, one viewer takes a seat in front of The Child by Paterson, enjoying a long moment of observation. Others pause in conversation in front of Broadbent’s tivaivai to closely examine the detailed stitchwork.


Artists talks allow this connection between art work and viewer to deepen. Bergman Gallery hosts talks from artists Sagapolutele, Novak and Fetokai Potauaine. Sagapolutele discusses how his photography has enabled him to look at his identity as part of the Pacific diaspora – “a way to understand how my heritage has influenced me”, while Novak’s work In Bloom directly references his Croatian heritage and the historic practice of women tattooing their inner wrists with circular symbols to turn away kidnappers. “This is my circle of protection, for me – for my identity as rainbow queer in New Zealand,” says Novak. Fetokai Potauaine’s sculpture, Vaka ‘A Hina, is part of the outdoor sculpture space, with the artist also featuring in Straka’s photographic work, both artists presented in association with SCAPE Public Art. Fetokai Potauaine plays a nose flute against the buffeting Auckland wind, hosts a talanoa about the themes behind his work and the links back to his Tongan heritage.


As the art fair closes on Sunday, works are taken down and re-wrapped, many going straight from the art fair to their new home. Bergman Gallery is already looking ahead to the next Aotearoa Art Fair, a few short months away,  2-5 March 2023. Preparations are well underway for what will undoubtedly be another celebration of Pacific art.

November 25, 2022