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Lowdown #17

Still frame: Toa`ipuapuagā (Strength in Suffering) by Vea Mafile`o. Photo supplied.
Madison Nonoa in performance. Photo supplied.
Wayne Youle. Photo supplied.
Black Grace rehearse Crying Men. Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele.
Wallace Arts Awards, mental health, stigmata and race - here goes Mark Amery with The Lowdown #17: arts news and weather from Aotearoa.



The 2018 Wallace Art Awards have been announced overnight. The Paramount Award has gone to painter Imogen Taylor (news on which NZ Herald have led with)  with other winners (most receiving various residencies) Peata Larkin, Andrea du Chatenier, Emma Fitts,  Lucy Meyle, Richard Maloy, Brett Graham, Yvonne Shaw and Paul McLachlan. This year’s judges were curator Linda Tyler, and artists Mark Braunias and Joyce Campbell. These winners were chosen from 515 entries and of those 83 finalists will feature in the touring exhibition, which will head for the first time to the South Island (The Suter in Nelson and COCA in Christchurch) after viewing at Pah Homestead Auckland (now till November 4) and Pataka Porirua. The tour also takes in the Wallace Gallery in Morrinsville.

Mental health in the arts

One of the big themes coming through performing arts activity in 2018 is performers’ mental health. The New Zealand School of Dance and Royal Academy of Dance hopes to raise awareness of this for men through its 3 October hosting of the NZ premiere screening of documentary Danseur, an American film that responds to a US survey that says “nearly 95% of male ballet dancers stated that they faced physical or verbal attacks because they dance.” This comes after the remarkable Cannes 2018 award winning film Girl about a transgender ballet dancer, which screened at the NZ film festival recently, and just as we book for Neil Ieremia and Victor Rodger’s collaboration for Black Grace on the legacy of family violence, Crying Men (interviewed on The Big Idea and RNZ).  

Black Grace rehearse Crying Men. Photo by Raymond Sagapolutele.

Playmarket meanwhile are commissioning a resource about emotional well-being, safety, and healthy relationships within the theatre industry, which will be accompanied by workshops in 2019.

And while Danseur exposes the social bias against men in ballet, conversely I had the pleasure of a fascinating conversation with LA based South African choreographer Andrea Schermoly for RNZ Concert’s Upbeat programme about the difficulties and opportunity for women in balletic choreography, a male dominated profession. Schermoly was in NZ for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s all women choreographic season Strength and Grace last month.

Death, truth, and art film

On Good Friday 2016 in a Samoan village a woman named Toa began to display wounds and cuts on her body. On Easter Saturday, she lost consciousness and was pronounced dead, only to reawaken two hours later. Artist Vea Mafile`o filmed Toa at that time and has continued relationships with the village in the making of Toa`ipuapuagā (Strength in Suffering). It premieres as part of Truth or Consequences in this year’s Circuit Art Film Commissions, alongside new work by Andrew de Freitas, Jeremy Leatinu’u, Janine Randerson, and Bridget Reweti.

The films respond to a ‘post-truth era’ provocation from curator Dr Erika Balsom who provided the artists with a statement by the ultra conservative US political strategist Karl Rove. Rove, talking to a New York Times reporter about the concept of reality in 2004 suggested “That’s not the way the world really works anymore… We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

The films premiere on September 14 in Auckland and a trailer can be viewed here. I interviewed Mafile`o and Leatinu’u as part of Circuit’s Artists in Conversation series, out today. The film screening precedes Circuit’s symposium on 15 September The Time of the Now.

There’s also a great interview with Vea Mafile`o on She is currently finishing off (with New Zealand Film Commission funding) a documentary about her father Saia Mafile'o, For My Father's Kingdom - the first feature documentary made by a Tongan woman.

Representing race

This Bruce E Philips’ Artlink piece reports on the recent No Common Ground symposium in Wellington’s Adam Art Gallery, where a challenging situation turned into an opportunity for change. Work of the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta had to be withdrawn from the show The Earth Looks Upon Us / Ko Papatūānuku te matua o te tangata which put her work alongside that of female Maori artists. The reason for the withdrawal was unclear, but ultimately sheeted home to her lending gallery pulling the plug. As Phillips’ reports, Adam director Christina Barton changed tack to enable the Adam’s first ever exhibition dedicated entirely to Maori women artists in its 19-year history. Noting Barton’s self-criticality at the symposium, Phillips writes: “It has become a trend for curators to declare the limitations of their practice. Often this is used as a tactic to sublimate critique and diffuse debate so as not to disturb the polished consistency of an exhibition. Barton’s presentation did not do this.”


The Court Theatre has appointed a new chief executive to lead its planned move back to the Christchurch CBD. Barbara George has a background in arts management with Auckland Philharmonia and the NZSO, and is the outgoing chief executive of Taranaki's Western Institute of Technology.


In a year of decimation for the arts in universities came news last week that there is a proposal to cut the art history programme at University of Otago. This follows similar action at Victoria University at which Christina Barton teaches – on which news has been delayed - and staff and library changes at Auckland University, on which musician Áine Kelly-Costello speaks criticially and eloquently. Further redundancies in the arts and humanities have also been announced at Unitec.

Awards News

Madison Nonoa in performance. Photo supplied.

RNZ Upbeat covered the announcement late last week that soprano Madison Nonoa has won the inaugural McCormick Opera Competition in Auckland. A joint venture between the Perpetual Guardian Foundation and the Auckland Opera Studio, it’s open to singers aged between 18 and 32, who compete across a number of heats. Nonoa has won a $20,000 scholarship to help fund tuition abroad.

Congratulations also to Upstage, a New Zealand musical film that has won the best musical film category at the first Creation International Film Festival in Canada (”designed for the indie filmmaker who’s tired of being overlooked”). It was written, musically directed and self-funded by Wellington’s Michael Nicholas Williams and tells the story of a cast rehearsing a new musical version of Wuthering Heights, set on Mount Tarawera, when all goes horribly wrong. Williams is currently in Tokyo working on Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera with Upstage cast member and former RNZ host Lloyd Scott.

Meanwhile back home the finalists for the SOUNZ Contemporary Award, Best Music in Film and Best Music in Series have been announced. The details with lots of links are provided by Upbeat. Composer Michael Norris has been nominated for the fifth time, this year with Sygy for throat singer, ensemble and live electronics.

I am trying to tell myself that turning 50 is something to make a deal about, so hat’s off to McLeavey Gallery celebrating 50 years this month and still going beautifully in the Cuba Street rooms it has occupied since the 1960s. Jesse Mulligan spoke to Olivia McLeavey.

Wayne Youle in studio. Photo supplied.

The McCahon House Trust Artists In Residence for 2019 have been announced: Jess Johnson (currently among the Walter Prize shortlisted artists), Tim Wagg and Wayne Youle. The residency is named Parehuia and is perhaps currently the most prestigious visual arts residency in NZ. Each residency is for three months in duration. This month sees the third 2018 artist start residence, painter Nicola Farquhar.

Online offline

The latest batch of the excellent wee Bridget Williams Texts series is out, among them Pantograph Punch editor in chief Lana Lopesi’s False Divides, an extract of which is published at e-Tangata. Lana presented at last week’s successful Word Christchurch literary festival.  

Whanganui is an outstanding contemporary arts and heritage destination. So hats off to AA for this introduction.

Tony De Lautour is the subject of a deserved major survey at Christchurch Art Gallery. Here’s a strong interview with Sally Blundell from NZ Listener.

And on top notch artist video introductions to their pubic exhibitions, City Gallery Wellington have done an excellent job in getting Patrick Pound to introduce his On Reflection.

Want more of the Lowdown? Check out Mark Amery's past Arts Media Lowdowns here and subscribe here  to our weekly bulletin so it comes straight to your inbox. News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of Arts Media Lowdown. Please send to


Written by

Mark Amery

4 Sep 2018

Mark Amery has worked as an art critic, writer, editor and broadcaster for many years across the arts and media.