This series of landscape paintings refer to the renowned book of woodblock prints by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (c 1760-1849), 36 Views of Mount Fuji, which I saw in person for the first time, during my first visit to New Zealand in 2013. My parents were born in New Zealand; my mother in Dunedin (South Island) and my dad in Auckland (North Island). As both my parents have passed away, this journey was a pilgrimage of sorts. What I did not anticipate was the profound sense of encounter with a place both familiar and completely unknown.
My three weeks in New Zealand inspired me to return to painting as a medium to communicate the staggering beauty of what I saw, but also as a means to grapple with the unsetting and remarkable experience of feeling “found” in a land that is not mine.
In Māori language the name for New Zealand is “Aotearoa” – the “land of the long white cloud.” Just as my encounter with New Zealand’s landscapes was shaped by my sense of personal, family connection, so too was it framed continuously by the awareness that these landscapes belonged no more to me than they did to my parents, who were descendants of the settler colonial wave from Great Britain.
The title of my series aims to underscore that, much as these works are personal expressions of the global fascination with New Zealand’s landscapes, the experience of “finding oneself” in and through unfamiliar landscapes belongs to a long history of explorers realizing their personal or financial gain in and through the lands of first or aboriginal peoples. While my paintings do not explicitly address Māori land politics, they take as fundamental the idea that “New Zealand” landscapes are contested places.