Lonnie Hutchinson (NgāiTahu, Sāmoan) is a mixed- and multi-media artist with a unique ability to weave together striking forms and motifs; history, and contemporary life, the personal and political, in formats ranging from paper cut-outs to architectural design.
Hutchinson’s work is always graceful and delicate, but never retiring or shy of confrontation. Her exhibition Ahu timataka / Trace elements is no exception, delving into rongoā (traditional Māori medicine) as a metaphor for healing a traumatised community. After a decennium horribilis of natural disasters and violence, Christchurch certainly counts as a traumatised community, and right now in the midst of the Covid pandemic, Aotearoa and the entire world is in desperate need of healing and understanding.
It is an installation in two parts. In the CAG forecourt are plantings of kawakawa (Piper excelsum), one of the most important of native medicinal plants used by Māori. In Hutchinson’s schema these represent manaakitanga – kinship, hospitality, kindness, generosity – but also healing and reparation. Kawakawa also plays an important role in tangi (funerals) symbolising loss and grief.
The plants connect to Hutchinson’s cut-out works upstairs in the gallery in black construction paper, acrylic, metal, and intricately folded vintage wallpapers.
Most of the work has a monochrome and formal austerity that seems to suggest the great and monumental tradition of toi whakairo (Māori carving). In complement, the bold patterns and colours of the wallpaper in particular evoke feelings of nostalgia, home, sentimentality, and sanctuary, a hint of the Sāmoan part of her heritage and the motifs of siapo (tapa).
Consistent with the artist’s concern for female experience from indigenous, Pacific and feminist viewpoints, there is a maternal and nourishing aspect, the creation of safety and protection: home.
With Hutchinson’s cut-outs, the shadows cast are as much part of the substance of the work as its material reality: the darkness that naturally contrasts the light, in history and life, yin and yang, the spiritual world and the human one, Te Pō and Te Ao.
Even without a contextual understanding of the imagery, the work is sheer retinal pleasure – an experience at which Hutchinson excels in creating. It is wonderful to see Hutchinson have so much space to stretch her wings in with this installation. Truly it is one of her finest creations to date.
Ahu timataka / Trace elements
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, cnr Montreal Street and Worcester Boulevard
19 June - 31 October 2021
Lonnie Hutchinson, Ahu Tīmataka / Trace Elements, (installation). Photograph: John Collie