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Exhibitions | Galleries | Studios | Street Art | Art in Public Places | Ōtautahi Christchurch and Canterbury
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Ngā  Hau Ngākau (Breath of Mine)brings together three senior artists from Aotearoa  in paintings by Robin Slow, carved taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) and waiata (song and soundscapes) by Bob Bickerton.  They describe NgāHau Ngākau as evocative of a whare whakairo (carved meeting house), one that is dedicated to manu (birds) -‘messengers that connect the physical and spiritual realms.’

NgāHau Ngākau has toured over seven years to galleries and museums throughout Aotearoa, taking on a life that could not have been imagined in 2017 when it opened at the Aigantighe Art Gallery in Timaru.  Interviewing Robin Slow about the exhibition, he describes its history and his happiness with its life and outcomes.  ‘It communicates with people.  It started in 2016 with the Aigantighe getting in touch, asking me to do an exhibition. I had started working with Brian and Bob in Nelson at that time and said it would be great to work together in a single exhibition, with stories from our own area and celebrate the wharenui and our history, going right back’.  

‘Looking at Māori art, everything is woven together.   It is what is behind and in front of what it relates to, stories, histories and the waiata. Each Māori artwork stands on its own, yet relate to so many different things - You are working in an eco-centric system, rather than an ego centric one, hoping that the works speak to the whanau and people in a way in which we can communicate things and all the senses.  50,000 people visited it in Palmerston North and it is an exhibition that conveys all sorts of things.    It has quietly made its way throughout Aotearoa, including Ashburton, Timaru, Whakatu, Nelson and Waitangi and is now in its last venue’.

‘It wasn’t initially intended to travel, but after the Aigantighe, the Te Ara Toi o Wakatu - Suter Art Gallery said it would like it to go there and it toured from that point on, and interesting for us sitting on the side line watching it happen’.  

‘It has been to galleries and museums in equal measure, and there are differences between the two institutions.  Galleries accept it as art, and a Museum in a different way. You are working with institutions that have set conventions and procedures.  When Brian and Ariana Tikao, (singer, taonga puoro musician)saw the gallery space at COCA they said that it was wonderful.  The gallery blessing at the start was intended to be gentle or as short as possible, and then, when the kaumatua (elders) saw it,it was all on.  There were three or four speeches and Brian said there was a whole group of people we were communicating with who would not have usually experienced that’.  

‘At the Suter we were getting emails and videos from students and the polytech.  They had been around the exhibition responding with a haka in a way you do not normally get.  We didn’t anticipate the reaction to these works.  When you get kuia weeping in front of those works and going into a karanga – it is another world.   We are the ones that are privileged.  Not just Māori – many of tau iwi or pakeha relate to it as well in a strong way.  It is a gentle way of taking people into a different world to relate to’.

‘In Nelson that barrier around colonial processes was broken.  More people went to Ngā Hau Ngākauthan they had seen for years.  It was quite remarkable.   At Puke Ariki in New Plymouth Ngā Hau Ngākau was visited by every school.  Street kids came through and we were sitting there and one of these girls came up and made the sound of the waiata, (lament) responding to the images that were going on.  I went up to her afterwards and she said ‘I just had to do that’.  Where did that response come from? Responding and not just looking at it.  Those are the joys.


Robin Slow, Brian Flintoff and Bob Bickerton, Ngā Hau Ngākau

Canterbury Museum at COCA Toi Moroki

66 Gloucester Street

15 December 2023 - 28 April 2024


Robin Slow, Ngā Hau e Whā, acrylic on canvas


Ngā Hau Ngākau (Breath of Mine)

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