The Rainbow Warrior bombing in Auckland Harbour on July 10 1985 brought state-sanctioned terrorism by the French Government to downtown Auckland. Greenpeace photographer and crew member Fernando Pereira drowned when two limpet bombs planted by French agents were detonated close together. The ship had been readying to sail to Moruroa to peacefully protest continued French nuclear testing there. Only two French DGSE agents were ever charged in relation to the bombing, but both were released early as part of a controversial deal between France and New Zealand, to Prime Minister David Lange’s later regret.

In this blog, three of our collections staff take a look at objects in the collection and reflect on their connection with the bombing.

Header image: Anti-nuclear march on Auckland's Queen Street. Gil Hanly. AWMM. PH-2015-2​. 
© All rights reserved.

<i>No Nukes</i>
Dr Andrea Low
Associate Curator, Pacific

Emily Karaka

No Nukes

Margaret Lawlor-Bartlett, Marté Szirmay and Nigel Brown had already galvanised a group of artists against nuclear proliferation and in October of the same year as the French terrorist attack, the first VAANA (Visual Artists Against Nuclear Arms)  Peace Mural was fixed to the reservoir wall on the busy corner of K Road and Ponsonby Road in central Auckland. A project that has been renovated and added to over the years since 1985.

In 1987, Ross Meurant, MP and ex-head of the notorious Red Squad Police division, accused painter and activist Emily Karaka of belonging to a ‘Maori terrorist cell’. In the wake of the Rainbow Warrior bombing and court case the accusation by Meurant was deeply ironic. Karaka responded: ‘I am armed with a paintbrush. If that is regarded as terrorism, then I am a terrorist. My artwork is my platform. My brush is my patu’ .

Like fellow activists, filmmaker Merata Mita (1942 – 2010) and photographer John Miller, who likewise saw their cameras as weapons, Karaka’s practice has been a commitment to fight for social and environmental justice. 

Karaka’s painting No Nukes has been a digital part of the VAANA Peace Mural on K Road since 2009 but the original artwork is now on display in the exhibition Tāmaki Herenga Waka at Auckland Museum.

The title of the painting quotes the name of a song by her brother Dilworth Karaka’s band, Herbs. Since their 1980 hit ‘French Letter’, Herbs had long protested nuclear testing at Moruroa and their music has continued to be the soundtrack to anti-nuclear sentiment in Aotearoa. Karaka links to Herbs’ early activism through the title and the repetition of the familiar slogan ‘No Nukes’ across the artwork. Densely woven layers of paint, and oil stick, strewn with lyrics, hei tiki, and a raised fist of solidarity make an immersive and sustained declaration.


You can see Emily Karaka's work No Nukes in the Maranga! Activate! room of Tāmaki Herenga Waka Stories of Auckland.

No nukes, 2008. Emily Karaka. AWMM. PA51. More information ›
Screenprinted skirt
Jane Groufsky
Senior Collection Manager, Human History

Adrienne Foote

Screenprinted skirt

The power of craft to effect political change was harnessed by textile designer Adrienne Foote through her chosen method of screenprinting. For Foote, the attack on the Rainbow Warrior hit close to home, literally – she recalls hearing the sound of the bombs on the 10th of July while at home in Remuera. Rather than feeling hopeless, the moment galvanised her to consider how she could contribute to the anti-nuclear cause. 

Foote developed her screenprinting practice during her years of tertiary education. Initially a painting major at Auckland University’s Elam School of Art, she left Elam to study printmaking at the then-Auckland Technical Institute (now AUT). It was at Elam, however, that Foote met fellow student Mike Brookfield, who had done some commercial screenprinting while living in Sydney. Brookfield helped her learn the basics using the university screenprinting set-up which Foote described as “basically abandoned”. When she no longer had access to the university resources, Foote made prints done with paper stencils and sold them through a stall at the Cook St Markets, a regular craft market in downtown Auckland. 

By the late 80s, Foote had set up her own shop on Auckland’s infamous Karangahape Road, where the youthful energy of the area was reflected in her designs. Her work, in turn, was popular with the socially conscious young inhabitants of the area, and she created a series of four anti-nuclear t-shirts which allowed the wearer to openly show their support for the cause. Pacific iconography like palm trees featured commonly in anti-nuclear protest wear at this time, and Foote’s work was no exception. But she could also have a playfully grotesque approach with her messaging. In one skirt in the Auckland Museum collection, an assortment of unnatural sea creatures – fish-cat hybrids, octopuses with wings – speak to the harm of nuclear testing, with “I admire your policy on nuclear arms” floating in a speech bubble from one fish. 

People power was at the heart of the New Zealand nuclear-free movement which successfully led to a major change in government policy. Wearable designs like Foote’s had an important role in spreading the message and were just one of the many creative outputs from this time.

Screenprinted skirt, 1987. Adrienne Foote. AWMM. 1994.171. More information ›
<i>Rainbow Warrior</i> brooch
Grace Lai
Curator, Applied Arts & Design

Alan Preston

Rainbow Warrior brooch

The way we decorate our bodies holds powerful messages of who we are and what we wish to communicate to the world. Body adornments are heavily coded, with jewellery playing a central part in how we convey not only personal status but also messages that contribute to ongoing cultural conversations. Jeweller Alan Preston used his craft to make this political statement. 

In 1974, Preston helmed Fingers, which became the longest-running jewellery cooperative in Aotearoa New Zealand. Beyond playing a key role for the development of contemporary jewellery in Aotearoa, the cooperative also encompassed wider social and cultural dynamics, particularly of relevance to Tāmaki Makarau Auckland, from the expression of a ‘Pacific’ identity to alternative culture. 

Preston responded to the Rainbow Warrior bombing with a sterling silver brooch featuring an embossed silver centre surrounded by a brass frame. The lower half of the silver piece is the heraldic shield of the French Commandos Marine with a dagger floating above a masted sailing ship and the legend ‘Commandos Marine’ below. Above the shield, however, sits a New Zealand military emblem; an embossed hei tiki and the words ‘Kia Tupato’ (Be Cautious) across a heraldic ribbon below. 

The contrast between the two military styles as reflected in their heraldry is stark. Preston’s references to defence force badges of each country highlights the sovereignty issues at the heart of French nuclear colonialism and aggression in the Pacific. The brass frame encasing the silver shield has further sgraffito inscriptions, “Beware/DGSE/Quittez/Assassins/La Pacifique” bringing the personal hand of the maker into the political. The message is both an unambiguous accusation against the ‘assassins’ of the DGSE and a repetition of the familiar protest slogan calling for the French to halt testing in the Pacific.

Silver and brass brooch, 1985. Alan Preston. AWMM. 2015.81.6. More information ›