Hakē: Street Art Revealed
Rediscover street art in the Museum. Watch artist Benjamin Work create a floor to wall mural influenced by the patterning of Tongan ‘Akau tau (war clubs) in the Museum collection.
Benjamin Work. Image: Vinesh Kumaran
The massively popular Rise exhibition, staged at the Museum in 2013–2014, celebrated the emergence of urban art as a truly global phenomenon. In the years since, street art has been legitimised and embraced by Ōtautahi as an uplifting point of difference in the city’s rebuild.
The Museum has kept much of the original Rise artwork, some of it hidden behind curtains in the main exhibition gallery. Works on the gallery wall by Wongi ‘Freak’ Wilson & Ikarus, Thom Buchanan, Eno, Askew One, Jacob Yikes, Drapl and BMD will once again be revealed alongside those still on display: ROA’s penguin in the Bird Hall and moa on the exterior of the Museum’s northern facade, Berst’s mural on the gallery stairs and Beastman’s mural in the Visitor Lounge and Cafe.
For the first week of the exhibition, artist Benjamin Work will create a huge 330 sq metre mural extending across the floor and up the two end gallery walls. The artwork is a response to Work’s exploration of iconography finely carved onto Tongan ‘Akau tau (war clubs) in the Museum’s collection.
'Akau tau (Tongan War Club). Canterbury Museum E150.983
‘Akau tau were sought after by collectors in the colonial era, particularly for the beautifully carved icons on their surfaces. Today, Tonga’s traditional carving practices, bridging the domestic and the ceremonial, have been replaced by tourist-dependent handicraft.
Work is a member of TMD Crew, Aotearoa’s foremost collective of internationally acclaimed street artists. His practice extends from public murals and studio based work to exploring his own cultural identity and the Polynesian diaspora, the migration and movement of Polynesian peoples to and around Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). His research has taken him around the world to some of the most prestigious international museums that hold Tongan material culture.
Benjamin Work hopes that the floor to wall mural will act as a conduit between the Museum’s Tongan collection and Ōtautahi’s Pasifika communities, reviving an aspect of kupesi (motif) that has disappeared from Tongan visual language.
Visitors to the Museum will be able to watch Benjamin create this work over a week from Monday 12 April. The works in the gallery will be on display until 6 June 2021.
Benjamin Work is an Auckland-born artist of Tongan and Scottish heritage. He has a solid grounding in aerosol painting with his initial creative output centred around sub/pop-cultural influences that emerged from North America in the 1970s–1980s.
Benjamin’s bold visual language references design elements and symbols particular to Tongan weaponry and culture. His practice extends across a diverse range of projects which include gallery exhibitions, large scale murals, print based media and photography. His work reflects the “here and now”, engaging with the current cultural, political and social context of Aotearoa.
He has exhibited in a number of group and solo exhibitions including The Most Dedicated: An Aotearoa Graffiti Story currently on at the Dowse in the Hutt Valley.