Selwyn Muru - A major retrospective

Dr Moana Nepia - IIRC20
Thursday, November 19, 2020

For senior Māori artist Selwyn Muru (Ngāti Kuri, Te Aupouri), “Māori art has always been contemporary,” it circulates ideas and remains forever relevant through the ways we think and interact with it. This paper outlines a research project informing an exhibition that will celebrate his work at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery in Wellington 2022-2023.

Muru is an artist whose work spans multiple genres including painting, sculpture and installation. As one of New Zealand’s pioneer Māori broadcasters he has also directed, produced, and presented work for radio and television. He is a talented musician, established Te Toi Hou the Māori art department at Elam School of Fine Arts, taught whaikōrero at the University of Auckland’s Māori department, and has been a dedicated mentor to other artists and students of the Maori language. He has been both an actor and playwright, and his plays are among the very first plays written by Māori, and in Te Reo Māori brought to stage. A renowned orator, tribal leader, and writer, he has translated several of Hone Tuwhare’s poems into Māori and was Māori orator for New Zealand Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand.

Alongside other senior Māori artists including Ralph Hotere, Paratene Matchitt, Fred Graham and Arnold Wilson, Muru is represented in major New Zealand collections, including at Te Papa Tongarewa and the Auckland Art Gallery where he will be included in the upcoming exhibition Toi Tū Toi Ora, a major survey of contemporary Maori art. His carved Waha Roa, entranceway to Auckland’s Aotea Square, is a much photographed landmark that makes both whimsical references to the city’s cultural hub and more staunch political statements about contemporary Māori art and its potential to make transgressive contributions to civic life. His painting for the Toi Māori exhibition touring the United States in the 1990’s titled This is No Ordinary Sun, took its title and inspiration from a poem by tribal compatriot and close friend Hone Tuwhare responding to the evils of atomic testing. Muru’s work was also included in the inaugural Asia-Pacific Triennial in 1993, and the first Johannesburg Biennial in 1995.

The diverse nature of his work, and its legacy of responding to some of the most important political and cultural issues of his time, from Māori struggles against racism and cultural oppression in the local New Zealand context, to global anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear, and civil rights movements, presents a multi-layered challenge to the curatorial direction and research pathway adopted for this project. Titled Aratika, the curatorial direction charting an appropriate pathway forward is determined through Huihuinga - an initial phase including a literature review, seminars and video interviews with some of his colleagues, fellow artists, former students and family members; Hurihuritanga - analysis of selected paintings and sculpture, archival photography, findings from broadcast material, seminars and interviews, and samples of his writing; and Te Putunga o Te Hinu - the final curatorial outcome.