I began this body of work in 2018 aware that 250 years had passed since Lieutenant James Cook visited this land, in three monumental voyages from 1769 – 76. A replica of his first ship The Endeavour sailed here in 2019, and it forced me to consider many of the issues that those voyages caused or presaged. “Endeavour” eventually became this exhibition’s title, with its hint of a very English, understated effort.
Terra Nullius was debated as a title too (note the question mark), an old legal term for land without legal title or inhabitants. It seemed to match a former Colonialist instinct inflicted throughout the world, after the age of explorers like Magellan, Cook and
Du Fresne. But in this show that Euro-centric notion of Terra Nullius has often been challenged, for all sorts of people meet in the Pacific. They clearly have not gone away because of explorers or colonialization. That is best seen in the large diptych Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, with its plethora of types, passive and angry. The mapped and obscure oceans of our shared histories have many undercurrents.
This exhibition began with sketches in the South Island, Te Wai Pounamu. There are several pieces in the Hangar Gallery exhibition remembering Dusky Sound, where I’d been as an artist on a Department of Conservation vessel. Cook stood there as did Dame Claudia Orange, who found a trade marble under a rock [the rocks were shown in a famous painting by William Hodges with a native warrior atop them] That marble turns up in the hands of Joseph Banks in the painting Trevolution, a little jibe at the one-sided trade Cook’s associates enacted upon inhabitants of these lands. My journey began standing in Dusky Sound on the same rocks. It was a place haunted by history and a shattered biota.
Later I came to the Bay of Islands, Te Pewhairangi, and purchased a boat to visit Maori places The Endeavour had visited in the past. Cook’s artists and scientists mapped and drew that native whenua, their naming and stories often reflecting distant countries rather than the native names for new and exotic things the Europeans encountered here.
There are other accounts different to those European diaries and maps, and those ideas have affected the art shown her. I have read Orange, and Cook’s Journals, but Dion Prime of Ngatihine also told me the Tahitian priest Tupaia visited an area near Waikare to korero, to recover from a wound, lesser known information shared generously by a contemporary Maori voice. Those new insights lit up my imagination.
How to show the scintillations of this multi faceted prism?
These works began as “worthy” subject matter – responding to the puff- chested, ennobled image’s spread of Cook et al, after their epic journeys. But I had to make changes, for reading and speaking to elders, brought some understanding of other positions. Many of these works are now not “worthy”. Rather, they show contestation of many ideas, antique and modern. And there’s humour, lighten up! There is the human side too, feeling out Cook’s mind out in a modern setting.
The respect for Cook’s travels remained, for not everyone can sail a boat around the world, and get to Antarctica, and draft that wonderful map of New Zealand. But one also had to respond to the pain and disdain felt towards him by some, as a representative of a now faded Empire. Cook and Banks and their motley crew heralded vast changes and upheavals to indigenous people all around the world.