In 2021, to mark The Dowse’s 50th Anniversary, The Dowse Foundation unveiled a major commission by Te Waipounamu (South Island) based Fiona Pardington (Ngāi Tahu, Kati Mamoe, Ngāti Kahungunu, Clan Cameron of Erracht). This exhibition is the first showing of that commission and features a series of works exploring Pardington’s fascination with the now extinct Huia.
Te whitinga o te pō (the shining lady of the night) represents a continuation of Pardington’s interest in working beyond the confines of photography. This unique installation-based project includes the artists signature photography alongside one of her first sculptural explorations in hues of shining gold.
Inspired by the skull of an extinct huia from Pardington’s personal collection, this suite of works act as both a homage and a moment of contemplation for the loss of this significant taonga (treasure). In proposing this work for The Dowse 50th Commission Pardington was keen to highlight the last confirmed sighting of a huia in December 1907 in the Tararua Ranges, not so far from where the Dowse is located today.
The sacred huia was already a rare taonga for Māori before European arrival, confined to the south of Te Ika-a-Māui (North Island) in the nearby Remutaka, Ruahine, Tararua, and Kaimanawa ranges. In 1901 the Duke of Cornwall and York, later King George V, visited the young colony of New Zealand and was presented with a huia feather. Likely already endangered at that time – the huia’s desirability rose, and its numbers plummeted even further. When the next Duke of York visited in 1927, the huia may have already been extinct.
The works each reference moments of coincidence and association for the artist. From the plants found in her driveway to the note accompanying the skull itself, each element of this suite is a potent reminder of the interconnectedness of Te Ao Māori. Pardington is no stranger to creating mesmerising and haunting art works that weave indigenous and colonial histories together. Te whitinga o te pō (the shining lady of the night) can be seen as both a memento mori and as a cautionary tale during a time of climate change and environmental adversity.
The Dowse Foundation, established in 2003, is an independent Charitable Trust that supports and stimulates interest in the visual arts of Aotearoa with a particular focus on the programme and collection development of The Dowse Art Museum. This major commission was made possible by the generosity of many people and businesses in the community who have donated to the Dowse Foundation.