Posts Tagged ‘arts’

Oriental Art

The story of the Japanese Prisoners of War who were interned in Featherston in the 1940s is a fascinating one, not well known in Aotearoa. Richard Bullen, the Associate Professor of Japanese Art History at the University of Canterbury gave an engrossing talk about these men and the art they created. 850 Japanese men had been captured and were on their way to Aotearoa before the American forces told our government they were coming.

On 1 September 1942 the N.Z. Government made the decision to house them at Featherston where there had been a World War One military training camp, which was now bare. On 8 September troops were sent to make the area ready, put up tents, etc, and on 12 September the Japanese arrived. They were given old WWI uniforms to wear, including lemon-squeezer hats. Their names and occupations were recorded, but it’s apparent that the names, and probably many of the occupations were false. For all the time they were interned they had no correspondence with their families back in Japan.

The prisoners were expected to join work parties, as allowed under the Geneva Convention, but these ordinary men had no idea their government had signed the Geneva Convention and they resisted the call to work. In 1943 this led to a riot where 48 Japanese and one New Zealander were killed.

Huts were built to replace the tents the prisoners were first housed in, and remnants of building materials were used by them to create artworks, mainly relief sculptures. Their tools were made from wire, nails, and cutlery. They used these nostalgic Japanese pictures to decorate their quarters and to trade with the guards for cigarette tobacco. They also carved some NZEF badges, which were presumably commissioned by guards. Some materials, e.g. coloured paints, were donated to the prisoners by the Red Cross and the Society of Friends (Quakers). Paua shell used for decoration probably came from the same sources, as it was known to have been given to the 20 Japanese civilians housed in a camp at Pahiatua. The chaplain Hessell Troughton established an organised system for making and selling items of art. All the items were well made, especially considering the artists were amateurs, although art was a compulsory subject in all Japanese schools from the 1890s.

Figure Viewing Mt Fuji – courtesy of Featherston Heritage Museum

The prisoners also made Mah Jong sets, and/or playing cards from cigarette packets. They practised ikebana and were surprised at the lack of botanical knowledge among the guards and camp staff. When the Japanese left at the end of 1945 they took some items they’d made with them, but couldn’t take them all as some were large wooden pieces. Some can now be seen in the Featherston Heritage Museum and the Waiouru Army Museum. Richard and his colleague published a book about this art which brought great interest from Japanese media, but nothing from the Japanese public.

No contact with folks far away
art must have helped to fill their day

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An exciting addition to the east of the central city is The Art Shop gallery, located in the lovely old art deco M.E.D. building in Armagh Street, opposite the Margaret Mahy Family Playground.

The Art Shop – outside
The Art Shop – inside

They have a great selection of paintings and sculpture, and everything is for sale. It reminded me a little of COCA gallery years ago.

The first item that caught my eye was Phoenix by Christian Vee, with wings that move up and down.

Phoenix by Christian Vee

A striking portrait of John Lennon in Ukrainian colours was called Give Peace a Chance. The Beatles seem to be topical at the moment. I enjoyed a documentary about them on Maori TV a couple of weeks ago, and I see that their music is coming to the Town Hall next month.

Give Peace a Chance by Liam Downes

Lovely mosaics by Jane Santos featured Wellington buildings.

Mosaics by Jane Santos

I coveted the Quail Family, but the price of $950 was outside my budget, and I don’t have a suitable place to display it.

Quail Family by Elisha Jordan

There’s lots more to see, and I shall certainly go again. It will be interesting to see how the stock changes as items are sold. There are plans for a wine and coffee bar too.

I’m pleased to see this new art shop
with works that I thought were tiptop.

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streets stream with artworks
some there for years
like elephants on Manchester
others are brand new
a giant cat on St Asaph
these portraits delight me
more obscure ones
show video games
alien cartoon characters
perhaps familiar
to the younger generation
I stop and think
their worth is in the eye
of the beholder
it can be a fine line
between street art and graffiti

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The Zonta Ashburton Female Art Award was the reason I’d been keen for a trip to Ashburton. This award supports emerging and mid-career female artists in Canterbury, and the exhibition of the finalists is on display at the Ashburton Art Gallery until April 24th.

The array of works was impressive. Here are some that particularly struck me:

Art Chemist

Art Chemist by Audrey Baldwin is an interactive installation and performance which connects people in a playful yet earnest therapeutic environment. Audrey is a Christchurch artist, whose performances I’ve enjoyed in the past . Art Chemist was installed in Cathedral Junction last year, but I didn’t manage to see it then. I’m delighted to report that Audrey won the Premier Award at this exhibition, which means she will have a solo exhibition at the Gallery next year.

Veil of Invisibility

Veil of Invisibility by Coral Broughton speaks of how older women tend to be overlooked. Coral says “The process of aging can be seen as an opportunity for re-definition where aging is seen as a desirable condition which allows freedom to live outside the gaze.”

Boys Will be Boys

Boys Will be Boys by Alice Jones makes a strong statement about women’s experience of intimate partner violence.


Monobloc is by Jorja Shadbolt, one of the young generation finalists. It is a disturbing image which portrays her feelings of worthlessness after the end of a relationship.

COVID ashes

COVID ashes by Jenny Wilson was the piece that most appealed to me and I gave it my vote in the People’s Choice ballot. The ceramic moths are Jenny’s response to COVID-19 TV images of rows of bodies, funeral pyres, and suffering beyond our comprehension.

Jenny says: “I make the moths from soft white clay printed with vintage lace, and fire them first in an electric kiln. Each one is then carefully wrapped in a paper parcel with copper wire, seaweed, sawdust, and eggshells. I fire one moth at a time in my home log-burner, cocooned within a tin-can saggar (protective box). Each night I light a fire, and each morning I uncover a moth from the ashes. It is a meditation of sorts.


We also went to the Ashburton Salvation Army Family Store, where a large mass-produced picture of a flamingo caught my eye. Stephen offered to buy it for me, so it came home with us, and is now hanging on the lounge wall. It may look a little tacky, but it’s pink, and fun, and that’s what I need in this time of Pandemic, War in Ukraine, and Climate Crisis.

Flamboyant Flamingo

So many artworks to be seen
including this Flamingo Queen

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Christine and I decided this morning we would walk into town and try to find those of the murals from the Flare Festival which Stephen and I had missed last week. Down Manchester Street we found a display for Slap City, a recent Paste-up and Sticker Festival which I hadn’t known about.

Slap City display

Murals which had been only partly painted last week were now complete, and we were delighted to find this giant cat mural by Swiftmantis. It’s actually right outside the part of the Little High Eatery where Stephen and I had lunch last week, but we’d missed it. A passing woman kindly took our picture holding the cat’s paws.

Giant cat mural

Round the corner we found a 2019 mural by DCypher and OiYou showing local historical scenes including the McKenzie and Willis building, all painted as a negative film strip.

McKenzie & Willis building

By this time we needed refreshment and stopped at Lemon Tree for morning tea. This café is an old favourite and while the ambience inside is fascinating, I prefer to sit outside these days as a Covid precaution. (We got a passing dog walker to take our photo.)

Ruth & Christine at Lemon Tree

We found a further Flare mural at 87 Manchester Street but weren’t sure just what this one was supposed to be. I discovered later it is by Ikarus and shows an eclectic array of video games and cartoon characters.

Mural at 87 Manchester Street

Another Flare mural was at 198 St Asaph Street, painted by Meep, a local artist:

Mural @ 198 St Asaph Street

Heading down Colombo Street we had a chance to enjoy the bird mural on the South Frame which I’d often seen from the car, but not been close to before:

Bird mural

Near this was a portrait of Sir Ernest Rutherford by Jacob Yikes, DCypher, and Ikarus, which is part of the Flare Festival.

Sir Ernest Rutherford

So much to see on city walls
great street art work that just enthralls

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A wonderful new mural on the bunker outside the Art Gallery depicts Māori goddesses/atua wāhine. It’s the work of Kāi Tahu artist Xoë Hall, for whom these Goddesses are super badass ancestors.

Hine-tītama is the flashing red dawn, who becomes Hine-nui-te-pō, the atua of night and receiver of souls in the afterlife.


Mahuika, atua of fire, appears with her flaming manicure, shining a light on the past, while being a torch for the future.


The trickster Māui is shown in lizard form, referencing the time he tried to crawl through Hine-nui-te-pō to reverse the cycle of death and she awoke, slamming her thighs shut on that idea, and therefore bringing mortality to all mankind.

Maui and Hine-nui-te-pō

The Goddesses are given form
with colours that are bright and warm

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As part of Seaweek the WEA offered a workshop called Watercolour Whales and other Wonderful Sea Creatures. with local artist Sarah Greig. I’ve previously admired Sarah’s designs and liked the fact the workshop blurb said no experience was necessary and all materials were included.

In a well-ventilated hall six students each had plenty of space and we were given pens, brushes, and a selection of paints and papers.

I lack confidence in drawing, and was very pleased that we were given pictures to copy or trace. I chose birds rather than fish or whales and was able to complete several small works during the hour and a half.

My watercolour efforts

Sarah discussed materials and where they can be obtained which was useful information. While I don’t expect to pursue watercolouring I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was satisfied with what I produced. My creativity tends to be expressed through words rather than pictures, and it was good to try something different for a change. I wonder how my readers express their creativity?

I found it fun to re-acquaint
myself with watercolour paint

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Today we set out to see the Flare Ōtautahi Street Art Festival, but it wasn’t easy to find. I’d downloaded a map from their website, but it doesn’t clearly show where the new murals are to be. The festival runs 2-12 March, and some of the works are still in progress, like this one we found on the site of the old Excelsior Hotel.

Mural in progress

We decided to stop for lunch at Little High Eatery. It seems to still be busy, with plenty of space for physically distanced seating. We chose the Latin Kitchen and Bar which has a rather cluttered appearance.

Latin Kitchen and Bar

I selected Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian dish, with beef, onion, tomato, capsicum, and rice. I found it rather salty, and Stephen suggested the name might be a clue to that, but in fact the name just means sautéed beef. Luckily there was plenty of water available.

Beside the Eatery we found this mural:

A good message for today

We walked round the back of the replacement Billens Building, and discovered another artwork. I particularity liked the Molotov crayon.

Mural behind Billens

The facade of the Cotters Building at 158 High Street had been restored, and a new building added. This has a mural on its side, rather fearsome warriors flanked by lotuses.

Side of Cotter’s building

I understand one artist in the Flare Festival is known for drawing giant cats, but we didn’t see any. Maybe we’ll look again later. (Afternote: you can find street addresses for the artworks here.)

It’s great to have this new street art
to brighten up the city’s heart

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This show of sixteen local artists is at the Linwood Arts Eastside Gallery until 26 March, open Tuesday-Saturday, 12 noon-5pm. It’s a community gallery, keen to encourage local artists, and they also hold a variety of classes when the pandemic permits.

This is an eclectic exhibition, and I found some items more attractive than others. It was good to see that several had already been sold, which must be encouraging.

Burlesque Dancer by Nicole Wu
How the Light Gets In, collage, by Di Tanner
Temari Balls by Toni Logan & Sandy Corbett

To show your art you must be bold
and it’s so thrilling when it’s sold

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Tribute to Tennyson

Who is the first artist you can remember engaging with? This is a question we were asked in our writing class. I remember an old 78 record of Doris Day singing The Black Hills of Dakota which I loved, but the artist I chose to write about was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His The Lady of Shalott has been a lifelong favourite, and I love his rhythm and rhymes. We later had an L.P. record of Richard Burton reading Tennyson’s poetry which introduced me to The Lotus-eaters and others.

Some years ago I was browsing at Shand’s Emporium in Hereford Street. They had a box of books in front of the shop and I found a short illustrated biography of Tennyson, published in 1909, which I bought for five dollars.

Biography of Tennyson

Today is exactly sixteen years since my mother died. During her last hours I sat and read Tennyson’s poetry to her, knowing that she loved it too, and being aware that hearing is the last of the senses to fail.

I liked to think his rhythmic word
could be the last one that she heard

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