Artist Statement

Throughout the 1800’s the landscape of Aotearoa/New Zealand changed dramatically as land moved from communal to individual ownership following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and the setting up of the Native Land Court in 1865. During this period, 1,200,000 hectares of kauri forest was reduced to 4000 hectares across New Zealand. [1]As this new British colony expanded, the forest and wetlands diminished. This enterprise was undertaken largely by manual labour using spades, axes, and fire.

This was the beginning of the destruction of the natural environment and the re-construction of a new landscape and society in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This body of work explores the contradictions between these two spaces; the existing natural world inhabited by Maori and the new built environment developed by the British Colonial government. My personal family history is situated between these two spaces, through my great, great grandmother Paeroke Rawiri (Te Ati Awa) who married William Jenkins in Waikanae in 1849, on one side and on the other side Harriet Richards, my great grandmother who settled in Taranaki after emigrating from Wales in 1861. 

The idea of contradictions sits at the heart of this exploration and I am specifically exploring my impressions of the contradictions within my family history, with reference to issues related to gender, to public and private spaces and to power relationships. These contradictions are explored in several ways. For example, by combining tapestry with tools from the British agricultural arena, and by exploring, through fire and clay, the contradictions between the purity and unspoiled nature of the earth with the evolving imprint of a new culture in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Embroidery is examined for the way in which it was undertaken in the 1800’s by Victorian women to sustain an emotional attachment for ‘home’ and the way in which it also explores contradictions between a constructed arcadian landscape found in the tapestries and the reality of the emerging new colonial environment. [2]

The site for this exhibition, located in this historic building constructed out of timber probably milled from the surrounding forests, is selected for the way that it connects with the ideas which underpin this work. Through this work and through the placement of the work in this beautiful old building, I am trying to draw attention and understand  the contradictions that are part of my history so they become clear to me in the way I understand my life and my family history, so they become part of who I am, so I ….. become the river.

Sue Clark, Sept 2020

[1] The history of Kauri. Kauri 2000

[2] Clark, S. P. PG Dip A&D, Auckland University of Technology, 2013.