Riding a new wave of Pacific art

Friday October 19, 2018 Written by Published in Culture
Ben Bergman meets Vlad the Impaler by Julian Hooper. The Pacifi c-style Vlad wears a Cook Islands black-pearl crown. 18101712 Ben Bergman meets Vlad the Impaler by Julian Hooper. The Pacifi c-style Vlad wears a Cook Islands black-pearl crown. 18101712

Gallery owner and businessman Ben Bergman is a champion of modern Pacific art and is about to exhibit a new wave of artworks.


Opening tomorrow at the Bergman Gallery is MPA#1, a show presenting contemporary Pacific art forms from 12 artists.

Bergman says: “The premise of MPA is to present contemporary Pacific art forms in a context that makes them understandable and relatable to a contemporary audience.

“For too long there have been very antiquated and outdated notions of what Pacific art actually is.

“Most people understand it as masks, spears and tapa cloths and these are all ideas that are perpetrated by large institutions that really should know better.

“So we are saying okay all this pre-colonial art is great … it’s the roots, it’s the backbone.

“But that’s not to say you cannot have a contemporary version of Pacific art and to have it valued and appreciated as such, without it being reduced on an anthropological basis.”

Bergman says the MPA premise started eight years ago.

“It began in New York, interestingly enough.It was a group show like this one that we took across in 2010.”

The current MPA#1 exhibition is designed to reflect the strength of modern Pacific art across a variety of media, to give it global context and to offer it as a standard, ignoring “archaic” parameters imposed on it by Western art institutions.

The 12 artists, including Cook Islanders Mahiriki Tangaroa, Sylvia Marsters, Tungane Broadbent and Brendan Kitto, offer a compelling statement, diffusing cultural stereotypes, addressing issues of identity, past and present value systems, human diaspora and economic circumstance.

Bergman says: “The show has come together really well. It was a bit of a challenge to hang because it is just so diverse, but that is what we wanted to show a broad range of Pacific art.

“So we have photography, sculpture, installation, we have paintings and, obviously, the big fabric tivaivai.”

And they even have Vlad the Impaler, courtesy of Julian Hooper.

“This is the first time we have handled the artist Julian Hooper. He’s building quite a big rep in New Zealand and Australia. He is of Hungarian decent.

“Julian appropriates a lot of his ancestral imagery and refines it through a Pacific context.

“In this painting you’ve obviously got a representation of Vlad the Impaler wearing a crown of Cook Island black pearls …”

From Bergman and Sons?

He laughs, “of course, he’s a regular client”.

“The pearls were given to his wife quite some time ago, so when we asked him if he would participate in this show we were very lucky when he came on board.

“We are really, really pleased to have him.”

Looking at Vlad, Bergman says: “This all came together in his mind. He is a very meticulous artist and takes a long time to develop his iconography and his compositions.

“It is quite obvious in this case because he began painting this picture in 2015 and he finished it this year for us.”

Another eye-catching artwork is from Matariki Tangaroa.

“Her latest painting is one of her strongest works. 

“She talks a lot about lost information. About genealogy and valuing our history. When the missionaries first arrived a lot of language was lost, a lot of artefacts were lost and the meanings behind a lot of cultural icons were lost.

“So she’s talking about revaluing them and repatriating them and making them relevant to our modern lifestyle and culture.

“Particularly in a Cook Islands context where so many people of Cook Islands origin are living overseas in Australia or NZ, who have lost a lot of their heritage.

“So it’s important to keep it strong at the base so when they come back they can access it.” 

The artists featuring in MPA#1 are: Andy Leleisi’uao, Julian Hooper, Mahiriki Tangaroa, Sylvia Marsters, Brendan Kitto, Raymond Sagapolutele, Benjamin Work, Mark Cross, Reuben Paterson, Nanette Lela’ulu, Michel Tuffery and Tungane Broadbent.

MPA#1 is supported by Air New Zealand, BSP Bank South Pacific, Palm Grove, CITC Liquor and Turama Photography.

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