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Capturing the Cook Islands in two different centuries

Monday 4 July 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Features, Weekend

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Capturing the Cook Islands in two different centuries
Edith Amituanai’s photographs of contemporary Cook Islands are on display alongside historic images from the late 1800s. Photo: Supplied/22063001

A celebration of community offering glimpses into lives lived in the Cook Islands over 100 years ago, feature in a new photography exhibition.

Edith and George: In Our Sea of Islands, on display at Whare Toi, the Palmerston North Art Gallery, features historical photographs contrasted with recent images from Pasifika communities in Auckland.

The exhibit provides “an intriguing conversation across time”, said Te Manawa programme developer Talei Langley.

Edith Amituanai produced the more recent photos, while George Crummer, who settled in the Cook Islands from the late 1800s, had captured the historic images.

Jaenine Parkinson, director of the New Zealand Portrait Gallery, worked with Amituanai to develop the exhibition.

The photos depict the everyday life of the photographers in two communities 100 years apart.

“We don’t have that idea anymore because photography is so accessible now,” Parkinson said. “But it’s the idea that a photographer can bring a different perspective on a community and lift them up and celebrate them in a different way.”

The title “In Our Sea of Islands” is both a reminder that New Zealand is part of the Pacific, and a reference to a quote from Pacifika theorist Epeli Hau’ofa.

From a European perspective there are wedges of land with nothing in-between, but from a Pasifika perspective the moana is the central thing that binds those islands together.

It was like a highway, said Parkinson.

The many works by Crummer are stored at Te Papa and displayed on its website.

Amituanai will be giving a public talk at Whare Toi at noon on July 8, with a focus on the genesis of the project, its wider meaning in the context of colonisation and cross-cultural exchange, as well as her broader artistic practice.

  • Sonya Holm/Stuff