Brett Graham is a contemporary New Zealand Māori artist known for large-scale sculptures and installations that explore Indigenous identity and current Indigenous issues. His work has been shown at the Honolulu Biennial, and the Venice and Sydney Biennales.Read More
Born in Auckland in 1967, Brett Graham belongs to Ngāti Korokī Kahukura of the Tainui iwi (tribe) on his father's side. His father is the pioneering Māori sculptor Fred Graham ONZM. Alongside his father's work, Graham has cited the influence of early modern Māori artists including Selwyn Muru, Para Matchitt and Ralph Hotere.
Graham completed a BFA at the University of Auckland's Elam School of Fine Arts in 1988, and an MFA at the University of Hawaiʻ i in 1990. In the same year, he presented work in Kohiak o Taikaka Anake (1990), a major survey of contemporary Māori art at the National Art Gallery in Wellington. In 2003, Graham completed a Doctor of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland.
Brett Graham's sculptures and installations are made from both traditional and contemporary materials. Drawing upon his Māori whakapapa (ancestry), Graham explores Indigenous issues, philosophies, and histories in the framework of broader Moana and Pasifika identities.
Kāinga Tahi Kāinga Rua
Graham's seminal exhibition Kāinga Tahi Kāinga Rua, shown at Wellington's Adam Art Gallery in 2003, comprised a multimedia installation responding to the research of Dr Katerina Teaiwa and the history of Banaba, an island in the Republic of Kiribati.
The installation explored the history of phosphate mining for fertiliser on Banaba by Australia and New Zealand between 1900 and 1979, and the resilience of the Indigenous Banaban people who were forced to relocate to Rabi Island in Fiji in 1945.
Graham presented moving image work for the first time, with scenes of mining operations, crop dusting in New Zealand, and a Banaban dancing group on Rabi projected onto suspended metal forms reminiscent of the rusted metal machinery left on Banaba . Below the projections were a series of ten white phosphate-plastered vessels, each representing the two million tonnes of shipped phosphate.
For the collaborative installation Āniwaniwa (2007), Graham worked with Rachael Rakena to highlight the submerged Māori village of Horahora in New Zealand's Waikato region. The work considered the deliberate flooding of the village as a broader metaphor for cultural loss and rising sea levels.
Graham also presented suspended carved forms evoking waka huia, a Mā ori treasure box. Viewers could look up into the boxes to see internal film projections by Rakena, which depicted memories of Āniwaniwa village appearing as if already underwater. The work was presented at the 52nd Venice Biennale, and has been re-staged several times. Graham and Rakena also previously collaborated on UFOB (2006) for the Sydney Biennale.
Brett Graham's 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' sculpture series , explores the implications of the war on terror for New Zealand Māori, as well as Indigenous resistance to the militarisation of the Pacific.
The first work in the series Te Hōkioi (2008) mimics an American stealth fighter jet, and comprises recycled tires lacquered and carved with swirling Māori rauru patterns. Te Hōkioi references the 2007 New Zealand police raids conducted in Te Urewera against the Tū hoe community. Graham has made various other sculptures in this format, including rubber-tire impressions of a Russian armoured car in 2010, and another stealth bomber, Foreshore Defender, in 2016.
Graham continues to collaborate with other artists. For the exhibition Tai Moana Tai Tangata (2021) at New Plymouth's Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, the artitt worked with Animation Research Limited to create three short films, Ohawe, Manukau, and Te Namu (2020). These films explored the 1860s wars and land seizures in Taranaki, and Mā ori resistance against the exploitation and destruction of the land.
Tai Moana Tai Tangata explored the New Zealand Wars and their legacy, along with historic relationships between Tainui and Taranaki iwi in the face of encroaching European settlement.
Graham has produced sculptures for public spaces across New Zealand, including the three-part cobblestone sculpture Kaiwhakatere: The Navigator (2001), located on New Zealand's Parliament grounds; the Mataoho Wall (2012) in Auckland's Hurstmere Green; and Plot (2018) presented for SCAPE Public Art in Christchurch.
Graham has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include Tai Moana Tai Tangata, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery , New Plymouth (2021); Āniwaniwa, City Gallery Wellington (2008); UFOB, Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts, Auckland (2007); Moengaroa, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland (2002); 1492–1642, Te Taumata Gallery, Auckland (1992).
Group exhibitions include Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, Auckland (2021); Sappers & Shrapnel: Contemporary art and the art of the trenches, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide (2016); Healing Our Spirit Worldwide, Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton (2006); Art Now, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (1994).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022