Susan Te Kahurangi King and Shannon Te Ao: From the One I Call My Own

This exhibition pairs artists at different ends of the contemporary-art spectrum. Susan Te Kahurangi King is a 64-year-old self-taught artist, who stopped speaking around the age of five. She draws endlessly and inventively in pen, coloured pencil, pastel, and ink. Shannon Te Ao (Ngati Tuwharetoa) is a 37-year-old artist whose videos and performances refigure Māori-language forms, such as whakatauki and waiata. Both artists are highly acclaimed. King showed in Paris’s Outsider Art Fair in 2013, Te Ao was the only New Zealand artist in the 14th Biennale of Sydney in 2014.

The show features King drawings that appear to take Māori motifs as a point of departure. King’s father, Douglas, a Pākehā, was a teacher and translator of te reo (he gave his daughter the middle name Te Kahurangi or ‘treasured one’). As a child, King drew on sheets of paper featuring Māori motifs that her father used in his work. She responded imaginatively and incorporated these found motifs into her own visual language, which has continued to expand in this way over the intervening decades. Another suite of drawings is based on paper dolls, which were sent to King by musician Alastair Galbraith.

Te Ao’s two shoots that stretch far out explores the possibility (or impossibility) of communicating with others. In a barn, the artist recites an English translation of a Ngati Porou lament to a donkey, a swan, a colony of rabbits, a brood of chickens, and a wallaby. His borrowed words—which originally addressed the breakup of a romantic relationship—now seem to refer to what separates the artist from his fellow performers. 

Te Ao’s video may be full of words, but it highlights the limits to communication, while King’s eloquent drawings counter her inability to speak.

Curated with Robert Leonard, City Gallery Wellington, 27 July—8 November 2015

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