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Kaurna people

Mildura, Victoria, Australia 1986

Aotearoa, my Hawaiki #1 2016 Place made: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: photographs, pigment inkjet print, torn Support: Hahnemuhle paper

Dimensions: image 60 h x 60 w cm Framed 63 h x 63 w x 4 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2016
Accession No: NGA 2016.239.1
Image rights: © James Tylor. Courtesy the artist and Stills Gallery, Sydney
  • Purchased 2016

James Tylor draws on his Aboriginal, European and Māori heritage to examine the complexities of colonial pasts, cultural identity and connections to place. His work alludes to the erasure and loss experienced by Indigenous peoples through the colonial project. Evoking this connection, Aotearoa, my Hawaiki is a series of black-and-white images taken by the artist of New Zealand's South Island during 2014. These landscapes recall many of the views of Aotearoa made by colonial photographers such as the Burton Brothers and Thomas Andrew. Tylor has ripped each of the prints, leaving frayed edges beneath mountains that touch the sky. Through this gesture, black voids comprise the artworks as much as the depicted landscape, marking the physical absence of landscape in his spiritual Hawaiki (Hawaiki is the traditional Māori place of origin).

A lyrical sense of loss pervades these works, and a sense of longing. The first Māori are said to have sailed to New Zealand from Hawaiki, which is a place (perhaps an island) from which all Māori come and to where each returns after their death. For Tylor, Aotearoa is itself his Hawaiki: his point of origin and the place to which he will return after his death. By elevating the significance of absence, the works ask us to consider what is not represented or seen. In so doing, they reflect Tylor's spiritual connection to place, despite the profound yet often-invisible effects of colonisation and migration.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra