Ora Gallery New York was transformed by a potent collaboration of four artists of Oceania, all with strong bloodlines to Aotearoa New Zealand. Visesio Siasau, Serene Hai Thang Whakatau Tay, George Nuku and Shona Tawhiao are deeply committed to their practice as a process of shared creation and the diffusion of ideas through form. Their work embodies a meaningful exploration of life, spirit, earth and the whakapapa (genealogy) that connects us and all things.
This groundbreaking exhibition bought the four artists’ work into a dialogue around some of the fundamental principles of our existence and the challenges of a planet in crisis, interrogating assumptions about the role of art and our attempts to find meaning in the anthropocene era.
The Earth is a living body that thrives in connected cycles of night and day, seasons and years, and in concert with the rhythm of the celestial realm. In this age of unprecedentedly fast change in the climate and ecological systems, the Earth is tilting towards imbalance and massive ecological change. The same imbalance is a signature of our human world, manifest in the principles of Neoliberalism and the inequity of human society. From this precarious site comes a global determination, voiced and visible in cultural forms and strident creativity.
The work in Living As Form comes from the fecund darkness: the spiritual beginning, the dark womb, the soil, rock, oil and ocean. This work eschews a return to the past and assumptions about traditional indigenous knowledge and instead announces a new vision for indigenous potency and new materiality.
The works trace humanity’s resolute survival and complex bond with the source materials of this planet and their transformation at our hand, and into forms, food, energy and life. There is no art—there is only life, the unending cycles of transformation. Hermaphrodite figures embody a tangible emergence from the dark and our spiritual and corporeal cycle of life. Our food comes from the dark soil and the ocean—our most essential living systems. From ancient decomposed trees and rock come the carbon, oil and gas that form our chemically created materials. Plastic and polystyrene are revered, emissions are the Earth’s carbon breath—these radical propositions will shift perspectives and test assumptions about our role as kaitiakitanga (stewards).
About The Artists
Currently based in New York, Visesio and Serene join with George and acknowledge the Lenape people as tangata whenua—people of the land—first people of Mannahatta, with their exhibition, reflecting a shared indigenous understanding of our interconnected world.
Visesio is the Paramount Award Winner of the 24th Wallace Art Awards in New Zealand for his ngatu tā ‘uli launima, a 62ft black tapa cloth titled Onotu’ofe’uli – Onotu’ofekula—referring to the strands of knowledge inextricably connected to the qualities of light and dark. We are honored that this seminal piece of art will be displayed in ORA Gallery.
Visesio and Serene both have Masters in Applied Indigenous Knowledge. They have synergized their practice for over a decade, working in all mediums from sculpture to Tongan ngatu. The kaupapa (themes) of Serene’s painted work—the effects of climate change, customary cultural practices, permaculture and food sovereignty— embody a dedication to contributing to our communities in a holistic and practical sense, and demonstrate the role of color as part of a visual language.
George is an acclaimed artist working in stone, bone, wood, shell, plastic and polystyrene. His works range from delicate jade and pearl amulets to stone sculptures of life size and two-story high Polynesian demi-gods and Maori cultural heroes. Rather than condemn chemically constructed materials to silence, George reveres them as living matter for his art as an interrogation of our relationship with the Earth.
Shona creates contemporary mahi raranga flax weaving which combine modern materials and native flax – Harakeke – made with matching accessories, such as hats and shoes. Unlike most other designers, Tawhiao mixes traditional Māori weaving skills with her eye for contemporary design which has helped her build both a local and international profile, showing in New Zealand, Australia, London, Paris and New York.
The artists share a determination for Social Practice as a visible manifestation in their work and in this collective: work that honors the democracy of an open forum for making, and also generously invites people into the creative naissance. The work is a beginning and an opening for dialogue, action and inspiration that will germinate in gallery encounters and a series of organized events, as well as inviting connections with New York’s artists, practitioners and institutions. The artists will often be present and working in the space, and music, dance and voice will weave through the works. Visesio’s vision for marrying tufunga’i (creative work) and mahi aroha (compassionate work) is a seed for awakening the work of all three artists in a vigorous synergy and rousing people to thought and action.
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