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Cultural Smorgasbord After Lockdown Famine

After months of being deprived, Aucklanders are spoilt for choice again. Vicki Holder opens up on what it's been like for Tāmaki Makaurau arts lovers and looks what's on the menu.


Never did those two sweet little words – Now Showing – bring so much emotion and joy. 

As Tāmaki Makaurau exited the longest lockdown ever – 107 days of restrictions – it was impossible not to well up when familiar ‘what’s on’ cultural event e-letters started tumbling into my inbox. 

No longer delivering notifications of activities cancelled, archived or just online previews, they promised a showcase of the real thing; experiential stuff, not served up on a bland vertical platter. 

Lockdown, especially as a single, is the pits. Loneliness is a real threat. I didn’t go mad, but very nearly. All thanks to Sugar-ray, my 20 year old dog who offered up his intellectual titbits and kept me warm at night. 

Now that we’re red lighting (until the 30th), incredibly, I can click on the link and select from a smorgasbord of activity, a chance to hang out with friends and strangers again and I’m buzzing in anticipation. 

Feels like I’ve been handed back the ticket to life. 

My cultural cup runneth over. The reward for good behaviour. Not life drawn with a blunt grey pencil; but sharp edges, filled in with swirling, colliding, screaming rainbow colours, inducing laughter, wonder, inspiration, fear and even tears. 

To be fair, lockdown has had its up moments. 

TV on Demand and Netflix were lifesavers. BeamaFilm, available free through the Auckland Library offered an enticing array of documentaries and Indie films. For hours every day, I was engrossed in a library of Amazon Kindle’s easy-accessed books – such a marvel of technology. Then there were the many Zoom presentations that kept me up to date. Even the Auckland Art Fair went online. 

But it’s not the same as the real thing, is it, fellow Aucklanders?

Understandably, I’m feeling overwhelmed as I try to write a wish list of cultural activities to put on my see and do agenda. So much to choose from. How did I do it before? Freedom can be such an anxiety inducer. But here goes. 

First off, Christmas is coming. Although the Franklin Road Christmas lights and the annual Santa Parade were cancelled, I’m still looking forward to getting into the spirit at the Christmas Light Show at Te Komititanga, a large-scale light light show spanning 55 metres wide and 32 metres tall, that will illuminate the entire Central Post Office (CPO) in downtown Auckland each evening from 8.45pm until 24 December, taking audiences on a festive journey.

Christmas Light Show at Te Komititanga. Photo: Heart of the City.

I’ll also head down to Takutai Square in Britomart at lunch time to soak up the vibe of live performances from students from the University of Auckland’s School of Music down while chilling out in the sun. 

While I’m in the city, there’s plenty more good free stuff to be had. 

Up the road at the Aotea Centre, Lisa Reihana’s Ihi is showing in the foyer. Ihi fills two floor-to-ceiling spaces in the Aotea Centre foyer, enthralling viewers with the story of Ranginui and Papatūānuku playing out on 65 square metre digital screens. It is one of the largest and most significant works of contemporary Māori art in Aotearoa New Zealand.  

Crowds enjoy Lisa Reihana's Ihi. Photo: Auckland Live.

Also at the Aotea Centre, Michelangelo – A Different View VIP Experience promises good things as Dr Christopher Longhurst, an expert on The Vatican and Sistine Chapel, takes us behind the scenes to unravel some of the major historical and artistic moments around the frescoes.

I’ll check out the Auckland City Art Gallery too. NZ Herald writer Greg Bruce posed the question: Is it ok to be aroused at an art gallery? And regaled readers with the opportunity to see art as a source of hotness in the male nude exhibition Manpower: Myths of Masculinity. Sounds like fun.

What I’m most excited about is exploring the gallery’s Mary Quant: Fashion Revolutionary  – which draws on the V&A’s extensive collection and looks at the fashion icon who harnessed the youthful spirit of the sixties to create a new look for modern women. One of the best things about every major exhibition are the associated talks and tours and I can’t wait to take part. 

I might also head to vocabulary of solitude by Ugo Rondinone (above) and wander over to the Auckland War Museum to check out some exhibitions. 

Having stacked up the reviews, a whole host of new movies are on my list; something cathartic to wrench the emotions. Looking for a good scream to blow away the cobwebs, I already ventured to Last Night in Soho, starring our own Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. With cool sixties fashion and sounds, this psychological thriller was totally exhilarating, I have to say. 

Aotearoa's Thomasin Mckenzie in Last Night in Soho. Photo: Landmark Media/Alamy.

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is now available on Netflix. But I’d much rather soak up the gruelling texture and weighty might of the big screen. Petite Maman is a hot pick, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch a must, and I can’t wait to see My Salinger Year which was to show in Auckland as part of the NZ International Film Festival but was cancelled. 

Thankfully a brand new film festival is coming to Tāmaki Makaurau and it’s bringing some buzz-worthy films with it.

In The Shade runs from 19 January- 2 February and they have a great line-up including Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield televangelist drama The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Cannes award winner Nitram, Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero, Tilda Swinton feature Memoria, NZ portrait Fiona Clark: Unafraid, and A24’s based-on-a-truly-insane-twitter-thread saga Zola.

Still from Fiona Clark: Unafraid. Photo: Supplied.

I’m also looking forward to Auckland Theatre Company’s 2022 season of eight plays and I’ll definitely subscribe this year. Can’t wait to see the penultimate show, a brand new ATC commission The Made by Emily Perkins and directed by Colin McColl. 

But hey, the borders open up 16 December 16, hopefully and I’m heading down to the Bay (Hawkes) a few days later so I’ve got things to see and do down there too. Nothing like a roadie to savour the scenery and I’m so excited to be visiting a couple of grand country gardens – one in Taumaranui and the other in Motuoapa - sure to put me in the rural mood. 

First up in the Bay, Kaye McGarva’s Made You Look at the Hastings Art Gallery. McGarva plays with shadows, creating trompe-l’oeil paintings of creases and folds, challenging the spectator’s perception. 

Kaye McGarva, Disequilibrium (detail), 2015.

No doubt when I get there, everyone I know will have suggestions as to what’s hot on the cultural scene right now, from movies to art, concerts and shows. And I look forward to engaging up close and in the flesh as I linger over a drink and a meal in the many great cafes and eateries that await. 

Nothing like a lockdown to make you truly appreciate what you took for granted for a lifetime. 

Written by

Vicki Holder

14 Dec 2021