Make a big difference to The Big Idea.

Help us tell the most creative stories.

Become a supporter

Lowdown #39: Swift Change

Children in CubaDupa's street parade
Crowd at CubaDupa 2018
Areez Katki, 27 Bars, 2018. Courtesy of the artist
ural Sculpture Award entry Sharleen Gambles’ ‘Vortex’
Ruby Jones cover for TIME magazine
Post mosque attacks sees CubaDupa off the streets, a play cancelled, and benefit concerts announced. Also breaking awards news, Brexit disaffected, and the rural sculpture award in kooky Kimbolton.


Get Off the Streets

Beloved free Wellington arts and music festival CubaDupa has made the brave and arguably controversial decision to move its activities indoors this weekend in response to New Zealand being considered to still have a high national threat level

That’s right, moving a street carnival based around parades inside. Utilising the myriad of small venues in the wider Cuba Street area. Would this have been thinkable in another city? Full details due out Thursday. Director Drew James told RNZ’s Morning Report on Tuesday that the one saving grace is the availability of the 2000 seater proscenium arch theatre the State Opera House this weekend. Fiesta!

Is inside safer? James placed the decision on “severe resource constraints”. “With the high level of risk at the moment,” he told RNZ, "the assessment we did and the recommendations we had meant we were just unable to make the site the kind of sterile environment that would guarantee the safety of everybody that was there. So we made the decision that we were better off in a situation where we had more control of security.” James comments need to be taken in the context of the stretched police and other security resources at this time.   

CubaDupa’s decision is interesting in the light of last weekend’s Homegrown Festival which saw tens of 1000s of partygoers in Wellington’s streets. A ticketed event with more controlled areas, Homegrown is nonetheless outdoors, spanning the city outside its fenced five waterfront stages with an alcohol-fuelled atmosphere. Yet on Saturday night 6000 festival goers were evacuated from the main stage area just before a minute’s silence was due to occur to honour the victims. A security alert that turned out to be an “innocent misunderstanding”, reported the NZ Herald.   

These are difficult decisions. The need for people to be together right now is also strong. CubaDupa is built, like WOMAD (which proceeded two weekends ago), on a family-friendly kaupapa of inclusiveness and celebrating our contemporary cultural diversity. May those queues into venues provide opportunities for people to get to know each other.

Meanwhile You Are Us/Aroha Nui fundraising concerts featuring some of our biggest musical names (Dave Dobbyn, Marlon Williams, Six60, Fat Freddys Drop)  have been announced for Auckland (13 April) and Christchurch (17 April). Musician Jon Toogood, a convert to Islam spoke about what this represented to RNZ. *Breaking news as we go to print is the promoter has confirmed You Are Us/Aroha Nui shows for Los Angeles and New York with Neil Finn likely to do the show in Los Angeles.*

Plug pulled

Another fallout in the wake of the tragedy is The Court Theatre’s decision to not go ahead with its premiere production of Christina Stachurski’s play EQ F@#%ING C due to open Friday. Given the plot of this comedy, the decision is not surprising. A young couple, in frustration,  use their portaloo to kidnap Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister, Hon Gerry Brownlee “with explosive results”. “As our community comes to terms with the events of Friday 15 March,” wrote The Court Theatre Trust, “The Court no longer believes it is appropriate to tell this story – at this time.” Replacement performances have yet to be announced.


On Friday evening instead Christchurch’s COCA Centre of Contemporary Art will make available its gallery walls for people to contribute words and images in response to the attacks. Text can also be sent electronically:

Following young Wellington artist Ruby Jones’ illustration of two women embracing going viral, she has been chosen to illustrate the cover of Time magazine’s April international edition.

Over on Māori Television is Kotahitanga by young Maori artist Akoni Pakinga.

There’s this karakia from author Witi Ihimaera on Radio NZ.

Finally, Pantograph Punch have published a piece on growing up Muslim by Hala Nasr with illustration by Huriana Kopeke-Te Aho, and a further reading list.

Winners, Openings, Music and Kooky Kimbolton

As the political maelstrom continues in the UK, comes this topical work about to open at New Plymouth’s Govett Brewster. London suburb Dagenham voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. New Zealander Peter Wareing spent three years there following a group of outsiders, who in his film installation Suspended Agency occasionally read from the script of Jean Luc Goddard’s Alphaville, a film following a secret agent who sets out to destroy a computer which has outlawed free thought and “individualistic concepts such as love, poetry and emotion.”

Awards have been handed out for both Auckland and Wellington’s Fringe festivals. Among the piles of gongs earlier this month, winner of the overall excellence award in Auckland went to Vanessa Crofskey for slam poetry event Long Distance Phone Calls. It was also among NZ Herald critics’ Fringe picks.

Here are the winners this week in Wellington. Taking out Best of Fringe physical theatre work Only Bones from New Zealanders Thomas Monckton and Gemma Tweedie, and Finland’s Kallo Collective. Interesting to see NZ Fringe report a 30% increase in ticket sales up on last year. Dunedin’s Fringe Awards are this Sunday night.

Documentary The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy of Martin Phillipps (trailer just released) is set for New Zealand cinemas May 2 in time for New Zealand Music Month. The film had its premiere at South by SouthWest Festival in Austin in mid March. I’ve located one review thus far: “Gritty, grainy, colourful and unusually intimate, this is a film that sets out to defy expectations. Even if it doesn't quite achieve all its ambitions, it makes for an interesting ride. Tells its story well.” For an insight into Phillipps’ view of the film and excellent 2018 Chills album Snowbound this interview by musician Stef Animal for Under the Radar is recommended.

In other music news, this week Moana and the Moahunters’ first album Tahi from 1993 is to be awarded the Independent Music NZ Classic Record Award at this year’s Taite Music Prize in April. Finalists for Best Independent Debut have also been announced: Alien Weaponry, Jed Parsons and Wax Chattels.

Last year I stumbled on the inaugural New Zealand Rural Sculpture Award in a playing field in wee, kooky Kimbolton in the Northern Manawatu. The town is host for a day to a cornucopia of flights of fancy that have emerged from farm sheds from round the country. Loved it! So how could we not mention it's happening again, 6 April with entries still being called for. Pictured is Sharleen Gambles’ Barbara Hepworth-like ‘Vortex’, made from repurposed rusting steel, wire and fencing baton.

Recommended content online

Tate Modern in London have published a terrific short video on the life and art of feminist New Zealand artist Alexis Hunter. London-based for many decades, Hunter passed away in 2014 but as the video makes clear Hunter’s strident and often very witty politicised work continues to increase in influence. Since 2012 Hunter had motor neuron disease, losing the power of speech, and the video features precious interview in 2013 where Hunter communicates through drawing: “Just because I can’t speak doesn’t mean I’m going to shut up!”

NZ Film Festival director Bill Gosden retires this month, as he wrote before Christmas, but not before an exit interview this week with RNZ’s Simon Morris.

Kim Knight writes for the NZ Herald on how the the theft of two Lindaeur portraits worth $1 million in Parnell on April Fools Day, two years ago remains a complete mystery. More than that, Knight places both Lindaeur’s work and the art heist in its wider context.

“Now, as much as ever, we need welcoming community spaces, where all walks of life know they will be accepted,” writes Gem Wilder over on The Spinoff after last week’s sudden closure of Wellington’s central library building. “I’d love to see Wellingtonians get creative and fill the void left by the loss” Council have said it will be closed for at least a year, with interim measures yet to be announced.

I love the lively, colourful musical dance of Areez Katki’s embroidery in the Dowse craft show Making Conversation. Katki also writes beautifully - in the cool online journal all about wool The Wool Lover about learning to knit from his grandmother.


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.
Our Annual Directory of Arts Online can be found here.
News and content ideas are welcomed for future editions of Arts Media Lowdown. Please send to

Written by

Mark Amery

27 Mar 2019

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