|The Rua Expedition
Bob Kerr paintings :
Whakatane Art Gallery 17 November 17 December, 2003
Bob Kerr's new paintings include one large work comprising 72 small panels, showing each of the police officers who marched into the Urewera in April 1916 to arrest Rua. This work is titled "Those who are not for carbine duty must bring their batons, handcuffs, revolver and ammunition". These words were among the instructions issued to those police selected from around the North Island to take part in the raid by the then Police Commissioner, John Cullen. Cullen organised the 19i6 raid and led it personally, although he was then 65 years old and due for retirement later that year. A portrait of Cullen also appears in the exhibition.
Other works use the words of NZ Herald chief reporter John Birch, who was invited to join the expedition along with Weekly News photographer Arthur Breckon. Birch noted that the police, as they sweated on foot up the rutted trail to Maungapohatu, had their minds not only on their immediate objective but also on its possible outcome. " what valuable land there is tied up, and in Maori hands, in this Urewera country there are open spaces large enough to build towns upon."
Two men, including Rua's son, died at Maungapohatu the day Cullen's party arrived at the community, and several more, including four policemen, were injured. Rua himself and three other men were arrested. The cost of the resulting court cases almost destroyed the community.
Many of the paintings in this exhibition are derived from the photographs taken during the raid by Arthur Breckon, and published soon afterwards in the Weekly News and other NZ papers to glorify the expedition. In its entirety, the exhibition amounts to a Pakeha re-evaluation of the 1916 incident, seen with a modern-day and more bicultural eye.