If whenua is so important to our artists, what happens when they cross the Tasman? Jewellers from Aotearoa New Zealand make a unique contribution to Australian culture through their sensitivity to place.
By Kevin Murray
As fellow ANZACs, Australia and New Zealand have a long history of rivalry. While Australia sought the international stage for its jewellery, Aotearoa New Zealand attempted to be true to its own place in the world. In 1984, Australia launched Cross Currents, which hoisted itself into the art jewellery world by organising a major international overview of the field, itself included. By contrast, in 1987, New Zealand's Bone, Stone, Shell (1987) placed its jewellery in the local context of the Pacific. This trans-Tasman relationship is reflected in popular culture. In Flight of the Conchords, Australia is shown through its neighbours eyes as over-confident and a wee bit dumb. By contrast, through Australian eyes, Kiwis can be typecast as provincial.
Thanks to the migration of key figures from northern Europe, Australia developed tertiary courses in jewellery before New Zealand. This was augmented in 1980 with the creation of the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia (JMGA), which hosted biennial conferences, often featuring leading international figures.
The important NZ jewellery group Details was formed at the 1984 JMGA conference. From 1995, Melbourne based Gallery Funaki, provided a nearby stop for the international circuit, regularly showing Warwick Freeman and later Lisa Walker. In 2004, the Craft Victoria's the South Project offered an alternative lateral trajectory for New Zealand in connection between other countries of the south. This featured the Cross-Pollination (2004) exhibition, which was curated by Anna Davern and Vicki Mason on the basis of a common reference to nature in the contemporary adornment of both countries. And from 2015, Melbourne’s biennial Radiant Pavilion jewellery festival, notionally a “Schmuck of the South”, has enabled New Zealand jewellers to test themselves out in unfamiliar Melbourne audiences.
Some didn’t come back. Many New Zealand artists became key figures in the Australian scene. But their work can still be read in terms of abiding concerns with whenua. Many Australian artists pursued an international formalism or issue-based practice dealing with gender and class. It is those of New Zealand background who demonstrate the capacity of jewellery to express a sense of place.
Despite leaving the “land of the long white cloud", many New Zealand jewellery artists find a way of re-creating whenua in “a wide brown land”.
Header image: Flowering grey gum, Vicki Mason. Materials: Powdercoated brass, linen, cotton, fabric pen. 2019. Dimensions: 9.2 x 11 x 4.5 cm. Photographer: Andrew Barcham. All rights reserved.