Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy

Sometimes you don’t know something is missing from your life until it all of a sudden appears again. When I saw Moana in the cinema I cried through almost the entire thing, not just because of the story (or that I had moments before taken and passed the Life in the UK test) but rather it was that I was seeing all of the Pacifica iconography that was such a background part of my life in New Zealand, but that I had not seen for years.

It was the same feeling when I went to the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy a few weeks back. Now, I am not going to pretend that I went there with a desire to learn, or because it was an historic collection of Pacifica artefacts in London…it was mostly because New Zealanders get in free when they show their passport and I felt like I had the golden ticket. What can I say, I will take that VIP life however I can get it.

I walked through the rooms of the RA and it felt like some sort of homecoming. The feeling was only akin to seeing the carved entryway at Auckland airport, diving down the South Western motorway marvelling at how the building all look so short, parking on a green leafy street and then saying hello to one of the cats. I’m sure the Germans have a word for that feeling.

I turned full gallery ghost at this exhibition. I wandered the rooms just feeling the vibes and trying to pick the Maori works out from the rest of the pacific (100% success rate on this BTW). It was strange though, because it was both remarkable and completely unremarkable. Unremarkable because this is what I grew up seeing every time I went to Auckland Museum (it was the best playground as a kid, and now my sister takes my niece there as well), the stuff I was bored witless of in school. But completely remarkable because this collection of culture from tiny nations on the right side of the world have made their way to London. To one of the best galleries in the world. Proud does not even begin to cut it – which is especially weird to feel when you had zero to do with any of it.

My favourite pieces were the modern ones – I am that strange beast who tends to prefer classical dance but modern art (Van Gogh is modern right?). The shiny red piano (He Korero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Moto by Michael Parekowhai) made of Maori carving motifs was a beautiful clash of pop and tradition. And the final piece of the show was the other one that floated my boat – a wall sized screen that was a painting come to life (Pursuit of Venus [infected] by Lisa Reihana) showing a slowly scrolling animation of a traditional colonial painting. It was beautiful and harsh and quiet and I could have sat in front of it for hours. Is it a coincidence that both of my favourite pieces are by Kiwis? Well…

If you are a New Zealander in London please go along and take a look at the exhibition. Don’t feel intimidated by the fancy surroundings (the RA is opposite the Ritz) or feel like you have to have a lot of time. Just take your passport to the person at the entrance and spend 20minutes walking through that little part of your heart that screams out for home.

Author: runawaykiwi

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