Last evening a sparkling celebratory event at The Paramount in Wellington saw Sam Neill launch the Creative and Intellectual Life theme of Te Ara.
The presentation interspersed highlights from Te Ara’s new theme, projected in mammoth size on the big screen, with living cultural performances. Along with Sam Neill’s droll humour, there was a powerful welcome in the form of a haka pōwhiri performed by Ngā Tai Hononga o Marutawhiti, two contrasting poems from Hinemoana Baker (one about death and the second a humorous comment on rugby), a gripping performance from the New Zealand School of Dance and music afterwards from Rio Hunuki-Hemopo with guest artists.
Creative and Intellectual Life comprises 103 stories organised into nine sections and about 3,000 resources in the form of images, sound files, graphs, maps, interactives and film and television clips. The best way to enjoy this feast of new content is to begin reading and browsing; and I fully expect (and hope) that you will find it hard to stop. But, just to whet your appetite, here are a few of the themes running through the stories that struck me and which I presented last night.
Much of the creative art we included doesn’t fit into neat pigeonholes by genre – rather, it spans media. Albert Wendt, novelist, is also a painter; Douglas Wright, dancer, is also a marvellous writer. And artists in one medium interact with others. Last night, for example, we showed Colin McCahon’s wonderful ‘Walk (series C)‘, a painted tribute to his friend James K. Baxter which ‘walks’ along Muriwai Beach contemplating Baxter’s life and recent death.
New Zealand creativity has been enriched by the dialogue of Māori and Pakehā, with each drawing on the other – Māori used western traditions of literacy and music; Pakehā modernist such as Gordon Walters drew on the Māori koru. And the country has gained hugely from distinctive cultural traditions: English choral music, Scots pipe bands, and Pacific humour and music.
The importance of land and the natural world
The tapering cocoon of the case moth inspired the shape of the Pūtōrino, the Māori flute. European painters made the land their favourite subject – from William Hodges melodramatic take on Cook Strait on Cook’s second voyage, to Karl Maughan’s hyperrealism. Even in film, a young Brian Brake, better known now for his photography, first made his name with a lyrical documentary, ‘The Snows of Aorangi‘ (1955), the first New Zealand film nominated for an Academy Award.
The body is a site for wearable art, whether a stunning kahu huruhuru or a 1980s fashion design. And the body is an instrument for creative culture – the vigorous pūkana in kapa haka or the voice of Malvina Major.
Creative culture rarely comes from the isolated tormented artist. It flourishes more when institutions encourage it and give it a home – in the form of galleries, museums, festivals, publishers and the award of prizes.
Finally this theme provides many examples where New Zealand creativity has impacted on the world, and the world has stood and applauded. They include Te Māori at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Neil Dawson at Paris’s Pompidou Centre, the Flight of the Conchords on the Simpsons, Lorde at the Grammy’s, the Symphony Orchestra in Vienna, and New Zealand at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
This is just one journey through a wonderfully verdant forest – take a look and we hope you can follow your own pathway. Whichever route you take, we can promise plenty of glorious stops along the way. Enjoy Creative and intellectual Life!