Christina Pataialii: Solid gold

01 December 2018 - 10 March 2019

A consistent backdrop to Christina Pataialii’s formative years in working-class West Auckland, Solid Gold radio station delivered unforgettable hits of the 1950s to the 1970s, New Zealand’s economic golden era. However, the radio catalogue was largely drawn from the United States, bearing with it ideological references both to romance and to the civil rights struggle active at the time on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

It might be due to such early sonic experiences that Pataialii’s approach to painting suggests a methodology close to DJing. Sampling from a rich set of historical and contemporary references, her paintings seamlessly connect time-space and collective-personal memory, resisting definitions. Likewise, because of her use of ordinary household materials and large formats, her paintings invite a physical relationship that echoes the experience of public space where the eye and body engage with mass-media images. Thus, her works might seem akin to street art, but, nestling on the canvas, they render a new voice to traditions of painting and the politics of representation. The current exhibition of site-specific and canvas-based works at Te Tuhi expands Pataialii’s visual language and repertoire.

codified imaginary

Pataialii’s palette is both exuberant and restrained. Colour attracts the eye, but unsettles the viewer with unexpected imagery: Bruce Lee’s ghost hovers over her black paintings, for example, a decolonial echo freshly out of the global Kung Fu cult. Uncanny fragments of bodies, buildings and landscapes populate the surfaces of the works with codified iconography – as well as Lee, the tiger and the imperial eagle act as both pop culture and political subtexts. Quoting Stuart Hall, the artist proposes that we “go inside the image or go inside the stereotype and use it against itself”, or, in other words, she exposes and destabilises the hierarchy of the image.

To some of us, the forms on the black paintings may connect with Chicano velvet paintings from the American side of the Pacific, but these paintings are more than just political gestures – Pataialii’s embrace of the particular visual play of light and shadow in the black mink blankets also pays homage to Ralph Hotere’s Black Paintings.

sound bites

The works make us ponder the physicality of music, and the experience we intuitively accept of its presence in space – as if sound leaked through the seams, out of the rhythmic patterns that flow from canvas to wall and back to unstretched drop sheets, like muffled radio frequencies. This relation to time and movement could also recall abstract expressionism; but, while acknowledging the legacy of action painting, Pataialii shies away from the masculine overtones of that movement and the weight of western art history. In response to the archetypal modern artist appropriating indigenous (aka ‘primitive’) art, borrowing from modernism here becomes a trick of reversed anthropology. Politicised and humorous at once, free gestures such as these dismantle the restrictions held around all traditions.

no more cowboys and indians

In relation to the dichotomies imposed by western narratives of culture, the artist navigates the confines of popular and academic painting styles, taking a fluid position with uncompromising freedom and rigour. The intense fragmentation of her images echoes our perception of the past according to the narratives of power: either glorious or tragic, depending on which side of the socio-economic fence we stand. Similarly, identity is for Pataialii a collective notion occupying most of her field of vision, and including the ebbs and flows of diaspora that run through her. Concerned with the virus of separatism spreading around the world and the power structures contained in media representation and in any monolithic version of history, she embodies the words of Chimamanda Adichie when addressing “the danger of a single story”.

- Gabriela Salgado, Artistic Director, Te Tuhi