MANUIA! | Opening Speech.
An exhibition by Beachcomber Contemporary Art (BCA) @
The American Indian Community House,
11 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10004
March 15 – May 29, 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Kia Orana Tatou Ka toatoa!
My name is Ben Bergman, and it is my privilege to introduce the contemporary art exhibition MANUIA.
The genesis of this show occurred two years ago during an art research expedition to NYC, undertaken by myself, Mahiriki Tangaroa, Andy Leleisi’uao and Luke Brown for BCA Gallery. Although this exhibition is a curated statement from the Cook Islands, it involves both Cook Islands and New Zealand Artists. It does so for a pertinent reason.
It is, in part, indicative of the special relationship that exists for the two nations. Since 1965, Cook Islanders are by international definition, New Zealanders. This definition exists because we ‘share’ a passport. We also share close economic links.
However the Cook Islands are a free governing nation with independent judicial and political systems, determined by a sovereign constitution. Today, we stand together in this iconic city to make a combined statement of art, uninhibited by romantic, stereotypical perceptions of the place that we live.
If you were to romanticise the present you would go back to your coconut trees, to your spears and your masks, back to your hula dancers. We would dream of the paradise state of Gauguin.
We do not.
MANNUIA delivers an art statement that expresses the realities of a modern Pacific environment. It speaks to the world from an outward vision. It seeks to comment, free of cultural expectations and national boundaries. This is a statement of art and it has a point to make.
Along the way he have had some help making it!
Firstly I must acknowledge Mike Mitchell, the incoming Cook Islands High Commissioner to Wellington and former secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Rarotonga. Mike wrote our first introductory letter back in 2008 when we visited The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and has been assisting us ever since! To that end I must also acknowledge Hon. Terepai Maoate and The Hon. Wilkie Rasmussen.
I make special mention of the late Tia Barrett, who was at the time of his passing, New Zealand High Commissioner to Rarotonga. Tia was a great friend to art. He was an integral part of the Te Maori exhibition that opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1984. When I petitioned him for his support for MANUIA, Tia took up the mantle and provided some invaluable assistance to us. Up until 4 days before his sudden illness, we were actively discussing our approach to NY. He was known & respected at the highest levels of New Zealand Government and I like to think that in some way, part of his legacy remains with MANUIA.
In New York itself we have received some truly amazing assistance.
To Sarah Smith, Consular Officer to the New Zealand Consulate General and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, thank you. Sarah has spearheaded an incredible effort for MANUIA and was one of the first people we were introduced to in 2008. Since then she has gone out of her way to assist us.
To the Hon. Paul Gestro, NZ Consulate General in New York, Kia Orana and our profound thanks. To the KEA network/NY, in particular Helen Klisser During, Debbi Gibbs and Jane Sutherland.
You are tireless patrons to art, your astounding energy and vision is truly inspiring. I consider it an honour to know you and am deeply appreciative of your support to this project. I also thank Geoff Andrews, Regional Manager, KEA, North America for lending his considerable support.
I must thank the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations in particular, His Excellency Jim McLay and First Secretary Kerry Davis. In November of last year, I along with MANUIA exhibiting artist Andy Leleisi’uao were hosted by His Excellency and introduced to UN Ambassadors to the South Pacific.
I acknowledge the presence here tonight of Kiwi Club President Aaron Snodgrass and his Wife Courtney. Also, from the Kiwi Club, Katherine Romaine.
To Soni Cabellero, special events co-ordinator of the American Indian Community House. Soni has been a fanatstic advocate of MANUIA, her patience and friendship have helped us greatly.
I thank Ryan Mitchell and artist Yazmany Arbaleda for contributing many hours to hang this show and to the members of AICH, thank you for preparing & blessing this space.
To the AICH Board of directors and Executive Director Joanne Chase, Kia Orana. Kia Orana and thanks also to the Flying Eagle Women’s Fund who have sponsored tonight’s opening.
I thank Air New Zealand, a major sponsor of our New York initiative. David Bridge, General Manager of Air New Zealand, Rarotonga has never yielded in his support of us.
Major sponsors of MANUIA are BCA Gallery & Air New Zealand, assisted by Cook Islands Printing Services, CITC Liquor/Montana Wines & Pacific Resort Hotels. I also acknowledge the support of the American/Australian Association and the Department of Cultural Affairs, New York.
To the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (FIJI), Kia Orana.
Together they have funded the presence here tonight of two exhibiting artists and contributed to the costs of delivering MANUIA.
To my friend Ron Brownson who continually indulges my resolve and to my partner in all things including ambitious international art shows, Luke Brown…thank you.
It is now my honour to welcome tonight’s keynote speaker, The RT. Honourable Helen Clark. In 1999, Helen Clark became New Zealand’s first popularly elected female Prime Minister and remained in that capacity for nine years.
During this time, Helen Clark was also Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage. Under her direction, funding for the arts increased significantly and a new era of creativity began, an era that included Pacific artists. We owe our thanks to Creative New Zealand and Helen Clark’s Government of the day for acknowledging that Pacific art practise is worthy of support and development.
In 2009, Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, the first woman to hold this position. Helen Clark is a woman of incredible international accomplishment; a true patron of Pacific art and it is my honour to receive her tonight as keynote speaker and to officially open the exhibition MANUIA.
Ladies and Gentlemen: please welcome the RT. Honourable Helen Clark.