My River Goes With Me: Johnson Witehira & Julie Nagam

Mar 5 2022 – Aug 14 2022
My River Goes With Me Johnson Witehira & Julie Nagam 1

Johnson Witehira and Julie Nagam, My River Goes With Me (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artists. Photo: Mark Tantrum

Water is a constant. It provides sustenance, heals, uplifts, transports, and transforms. No matter where in the world you may be, it is likely the water you look at, consume and employ is the same water seen, felt and tasted by others on the opposite side of the globe.

This shared experience is at the heart of My River Goes With Me, a collaboration between Wellington-based Johnson Witehira (Ngāpuhi, Tamahaki) and Winnipeg-based Julie Nagam (Métis, German, Syrian). Together they have created an immersive experience that highlights the life-giving qualities of water as a metaphor and a unifying element to bridge geographical distance and cultural tradition.

Featuring imagery from both artists’ tūrangawaewae (standing place), this exhibition draws on their combined visual languages, imagining a space where time and place converge. The installation explores representations of the flora and fauna of Witehira and Nagam’s geographic regions alongside the unique iconography of their respective whakapapa (lineages).

Their rivers play an important role in this work, which is depicted as a kōwhaiwhai watercourse moving around the gallery space. Witehira draws on the deep connection he shares with the Whanganui River, the first body of water in Aotearoa recognised as a person. A circle of stones included in the installation has been transported from Pipiriki on the banks of the Whanganui;

“I see the stones as a tangible piece of me, one that is there to look after the art project and be in the space in my absence. They carry a mauri that can't be generated by the digital works alone.”

Nagam references two interconnected waterways, the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, which come together in the heart of Winnipeg, in the Manitoba territory of Canada. She has also included the birch and red pine trees that are such distinctive features from her landscape alongside some of the wildlife;

“When I think about the importance of plant medicines and our relationship to animals, I focus on a bird called the whip-poor-will. There are many in Manitoba, and this bird has a distinctive sound. I think about what it means to be losing this animal, or the blue dragonfly, or the coyote which we call the “prairie wolf”.”   

Utilising hand-drawn elements alongside digital printing, rendering, animation and a specially created soundscape My River Goes With Me offers a multi-layered experience while providing an insight into these artists shared vision.