Collection

Taranaki Heitiki White Mussel Shell Eyes, Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum
Fiona Pardington

2002

Fiona Pardington
b.
1961
Title:
Taranaki Heitiki White Mussel Shell Eyes, Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum
Production date:
2002
Accession No:
2008/10
Measurements:
550 x 420mm unframed 920 x 775 x 25mm framed
Media:
toned silver bromide fibre based print wooden frame Tru-view glass

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

Fiona Pardington descends from the Ngāi Tahu iwi of the South Island. Over the last 30 years, she has produced an extensive body of photographic work that critically engages with the politics of representation concerning Māori culture and the materiality of light. In the late 1990s, Pardington started to examine museum collections. These two large-scale, black-and-white photographs — Inanga, Heitiki, North Island (Toru Tekau ma Rua) Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum and Taranaki Heitiki White Mussel Shell Eyes, Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum — depict two pounamu heitiki neck ornaments. These ancestral heitiki are powerful sacred symbols of fertility and spirituality that adorned Māori ancestors. Collected from the North Island, these heitiki are now held at the Okains Bay Museum in Christchurch. Their descriptive titles mimic the cataloguing language of museums, providing the geographic location and provenance of the ornaments. However, they fail to provide any information about the provenance of these precious taonga, about the people that would have worn them and collected them, or about their journey across Cook Strait between the North and South Islands.

Pardington uses photography to re-appropriate and represent these ancestral heitiki in order to draw attention to how they exist today as precious physical objects. Her silver gelatin prints absorb the nuances of light and shadow, dramatically animating each worn heitiki and infusing them with a deeper and more personal sense of history than that of the iconic heitiki preserved in the museums.

This print from Okains Bay is part of a larger investigation of heitiki held in museums throughout New Zealand and abroad. Pardington has also gained access to the extensive collection of pounamu heitiki at the Auckland Museum, where she developed seven prints of heitiki from her own Ngāi Tahu iwi, as well as from collections at the Whanganui Regional Museum and the Musée du Quai Branly in France.