A New Wave of Pacific Art

A couple of months ago the Cook Islands News ran an article written by Richard Moore about how gallery owner and business man, Ben Bergman, had become a champion of modern Pacific art and exhibited a new wave of artworks.

The Bergman Gallery opened its Modern Pacific Art (MPA#1) in October, and it ran until November 24, 2018 on Rarotonga, Cook Islands. It was a show that presented contemporary Pacific art forms from twelve artists. Bergman said, “The premise of MPA is to present contemporary Pacific art forms in a context that makes them understandable and relatable to a contemporary audience.”

Bergman added, “For too long there have been very antiquated and outdated notions of what Pacific art actually is. Most people understand it as masks, spears and tapa cloths and these are all ideas that are perpetrated by large institutions that really should know better. So we are saying okay all this pre-colonial art is great … it’s the roots, it’s the backbone. But that’s not to say you cannot have a contemporary version of Pacific art and to have it valued and appreciated as such, without it being reduced on an anthropological basis.”

Bergman said the MPA premise started eight years ago. “It began in New York, interestingly enough.It was a group show like this one that we took across in 2010.”

The current MPA#1 exhibition is designed to reflect the strength of modern Pacific art across a variety of media, to give it global context and to offer it as a standard, ignoring “archaic” parameters imposed on it by Western art institutions. The 12 artists, including Cook Islanders Mahiriki Tangaroa, Sylvia Marsters, Tungane Broadbent and Brendan Kitto, offer a compelling statement, diffusing cultural stereotypes, addressing issues of identity, past and present value systems, human diaspora and economic circumstance.

Bergman said, “The show has come together really well. It was a bit of a challenge to hang because it is just so diverse, but that is what we wanted to show a broad range of Pacific art. So we have photography, sculpture, installation, we have paintings and, obviously, the big fabric tivaivai.”


Examples of Matariki Tangaroa’s artwork in New York, photo by the bergmangallery.co.ck

One of the more eye-catching artwork was from Matariki Tangaroa. Bergman said, “Her latest painting is one of her strongest works. She talks a lot about lost information. About genealogy and valuing our history. When the missionaries first arrived a lot of language was lost, a lot of artifacts were lost and the meanings behind a lot of cultural icons were lost. So she’s talking about re-valuing them and repatriating them and making them relevant to our modern lifestyle and culture. Particularly in a Cook Islands context where so many people of Cook Islands origin are living overseas in Australia or NZ, who have lost a lot of their heritage. so it’s important to keep it strong at the base so when they come back they can access it.”

To learn more about the Bergman Gallery simply click here.

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