It was a sold out Friend’s visit to listen to artist Michel Tuffery at Pātaka Art + Museum.

Michel asked us to touch the anchor stone on our way into the gallery   – this was the first invitation extended by him, in a conversation about having a conversation with the past. The stone, Maungaroa, or Te Huka-a-Tai, came from Eastern Polynesia and was left in Porirua over a thousand years ago by Kupe. When we touch it the past becomes the present, and we too become part of it’s history.

Michel says that this is a very important show, conceived by Director, Reuben Friend before plans were made for Tuia 250. Wall text explains that the exhibition artworks address lesser-known histories in Aotearoa and elsewhere in Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean, and asks us to reconsider the narratives we have been told, and the impact this has on the image of who we are as a nation.

We are in a time where the conversations surrounding this date can become fierce, but Michel reminded us that the positive part is having the conversations. This is the really significant thing, there being no right or wrong answers.

Michel’s recent paintings are his response to the ‘encounter’, with his version coming from the point of view of the old ones, the tuakana. They form a visual diary compiled over 20 years of research, travel, conversations and thought, and relate to the 20-minute Rough Cut Excerpts (re-edited from from Tupaia’s Endeavour 2012-2019, Lala Rolls, Director), which offers a ‘visual taste of the past’. Michel has Samoan, Rarotongan and Ma’ohi Tahitian heritage. His familial ties from the latter give him a unique perspective of the story of Tupaia, who played a pivotal role in mediating relationships between Maori communities and Cook and his Endeavour crew.

We see familiar landscapes, like those from the Tolaga Bay area where Tupaia left a rock drawing and his signature in the cave that now bears his name.  Other characters are also familiar – Cookie, ships boy Nick, Solander,
Te Maro, Banks. The plants once astonishing to botanists and rendered by them, are recognisable to us. Kumara flowers, like those seen in plantations by Banks. Kowhai, the tuna fish whispering in Cooks ear, a kuri at the feet of Te Maro, and Kākabeak surrounding Parkinson. Most paintings are framed by iconography from the Hinematioro poupou, on loan from the Tubingen Museum in Germany for the Tū te Whaihanga exhibition at Tairāwhiti Museum in Gisborne.

In the past Michel travelled to Germany where he visited South Pacific museum collections. He then shared his pictures of taonga with people in Samoa and the Cook Islands, forming a spiritual connection from his journey. Michel encourages us to listen to the local people and their versions of events. Collecting the indigenous point of view, the local’s version of contact/pre-contact together with knowledge shared from c1769 and since by academics allows us to find commonalities which ensure that  ‘the conversation will go on forever… respecting the perspectives’.

Michel invites every New Zealander to make the journey up to Gisborne. For us to go to the places that Cookie went, to stand and to listen, to hear and to smell; and to make up our own minds.

Sharon Taylor-Offord