8 Nov 2018

Rejected mural revealed again after 40 years

12:51 pm on 8 November 2018

A controversial mural that was rejected by Māori from the East Coast in 1980 has come out of storage for the first time in almost 40 years.

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Photo: RNZ / Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

At an exhibition last night, artist John Walsh welcomed members of the Tolaga Bay community to the New Zealand Portrait Gallery to see it revealed for a second time.

Local kaumatua had refused to display the 60-feet long painting because it was deemed "radical" and challenged long-established concepts of traditional Māori art.

They didn't like how the dead and the living were featured together or how modern the painting looked.

Mr Walsh still remembered how it felt when they refused to display it at Hauiti Marae.

"It's just that my people at the time were very conservative, and they didn't want to have any of this going on there."

The painting features 60 colourful portraits of the people of Uawa in Tolaga Bay and the body of Jesus Christ lying over them.

Among the many faces is 16-year-old James Henry.

Now in his adulthood, he had come to see it again with fresh eyes.

"I wish I was that age again. For about 30 odd years, it's about the first time I've seen it. There's a lot of familiar faces and a lot of people to recollect with."

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Photo: RNZ/ Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Many of those familiar faces, including local kaumatua, have since passed away.

Mr Henry said the mural brings back memories of them.

"It brings back a lot of fond memories, especially a lot of old people. People you don't ever forget."

Iwi representative Wayne Ngata pointed to a young face in the painting that looked like his.

It was his father.

"That's sort of how I remember him, and a whole lot of others here. We know all of these people. We grew up with them, we were disciplined by them and instructed by them and all the rest of it."

Mr Ngata said attitudes had changed and this time the mural would find a home somewhere.

"We have been working with John trying to put it out there, in public, show people, show ourselves and have a talk about what the next step is."

Mr Walsh was especially emotional revealing his work to members of the community again.

He was glad it had finally seen the light of day.

"After all this time we can put the past to bed and move into the future."

The mural will stay at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery for the next three months.