|Niu Tireni - photographs by Paul Thompson
21 February 17 March 2002
Niu Tireni (the Maori name for New Zealand taken from the Maori Kings flag) is an exhibition of large b/w prints featuring flags in motion. These flags have been made especially for this series using symbols and patterns based on Maori flags of the 19th century such as Te Kootis flag, Te Wepu/The Whip, which was a spectacular 14 metres long.
Paul Thompson is a photographer with a long exhibition history and has had several books on his own work published plus has written several others based on the photographic collections held at Te Papa. His photographs are held by both private collectors and in major New Zealand and overseas museum and gallery collections.
Photographs are powerful. They can appear to arrest the worlds movement in images that allow for examination, reflection, and return. Like dance or music, photography is an art in time, but an art of moments rather than of flow. As flags have their fullest expression when they are moving, a still photograph of a flag, in its apparently arrested motion, sets up a tension, a duality or even sets of dualities, extending notions of beauty and terror, of soft fabric and ideological inflexibility, of complexity and simplicity.
Niu Tireni compounds these relationships by examining a European form that advanced Maori purposes, which were often in direct conflict with a sometimes imposed, sometimes embraced, cultural domination. Variability and stasis, motion and stillness, Maori and Pakeha can all be seen, if we wished to, as polarities. But as the new sciences of Chaos and Complexity reveal, the world over which flags flutter and camera shutters slice into images is an inextricably entwined continuum. As well as crops, ideas, and customs, Maori adopted and adapted British military practices and technologies. The flag was one that carried great mana, and fulfilled its purpose very effectively. Prophets, leaders, and iwi developed flags and banners to use both in peace and in war. The potency of flags is witnessed throughout the battle accounts of Kororareka, Te Kohia, Kaipopo, Gate Pa, Waerenga-A-Hika, and many others. And the Crown frequently presented loyalist Maori with modified versions of the Queens flag: the Union Jack.