This is New Zealand

This is New Zealand
City Gallery Wellington
Curated by Robert Leonard & Aaron Lister with Moya Lawson
3 March – 29 July 2018


Costa Botes, Anna Cottrell, Simon Denny, John Drawbridge, Aaron Dustin, Gavin Hipkins, Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, Sir Peter Jackson, Marcus King, Douglas Lilburn, Kyle Lockwood, Hugh Macdonald, Paratene Matchitt, Emil McAvoy, Leonard Mitchell, Fiona Pardington, Michael Parekōwhai, Peter Peryer, Len Potts, Gaylene Preston, Michael Stevenson, Inia Te Wiata, and others.


This Is New Zealand explores the role art has played in asserting and questioning notions of national identity. It considers how our country has represented itself, and what those representations have included and excluded. It takes a critical look at the stories we have told ourselves—and the stories we have told others—about who we are.

New Zealand has been going to the Venice Biennale since 2001, declaring our internationalism. However, some of our chosen artists have taken the opportunity to tackle old themes of national identity, playing on the Biennale’s anachronistic national-pavilion structure, so reminiscent of World’s Fairs and Expos.

This Is New Zealand re-presents Venice works (by Michael Stevenson, Michael Parekōwhai, and Simon Denny), alongside New Zealand works created for World’s Fairs, Expos, and other diplomatic contexts (by Marcus King, John Drawbridge, Inia Te Wiata, Hugh Macdonald, Para Matchitt, Douglas Lilburn, and Fiona Pardington), and films, TV ads, and early tourism campaigns. There are also new projects exploring national iconography (by Bronwyn Holloway-Smith, Gavin Hipkins, and Emil McAvoy).

The show borrows its title from one of the key works—the spectacular three-screen film made by Hugh Macdonald at the National Film Unit for the New Zealand pavilion at Osaka’s Expo ’70.

The National Basement

The National Basement is an exhibition of digitally restored official New Zealand Government photographs drawn from the National Publicity Studios Collection (held by Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga) as a solo presentation by Emil McAvoy as part of the group exhibition ‘This is New Zealand’. The National Basement was later restaged at Old Government House, University of Auckland in 2020.

City Gallery Wellington Senior Curator Aaron Lister’s text on The National Basement

Auckland artist Emil McAvoy turns the camera back on the National Publicity Studios (NPS). From the late 1940s to the late 1980s, the NPS was responsible for picturing New Zealand for promotion and publicity purposes. Their New Zealand was forged from government agendas, mediated by artists, and sold to local and international stakeholders. It’s soft propaganda—New Zealand at its cleanest, brightest, most harmonious.

Once ubiquitous, NPS images are now largely invisible. In 2009, Archives New Zealand awarded McAvoy a scholarship providing unprecedented access to their 250,000-image archive. He subsequently made a series of interventions into the portrait of New Zealand it constructs. He pried open the collection, turning NPS stock images, cataloguing systems, and house style against themselves, or into something else.

McAvoy takes us behind the scenes of the NPS’s idealised vision of New Zealand. He has selected, digitally restored, and made public a series of photographs documenting NPS displays that were made as internal records and were never intended to be made public. Where NPS art sought to locate the viewer within the world it created, McAvoy places us behind, slightly to the side, and after the fact. He prompts us all to figure out where we locate ourselves in relation to this once prevalent vision of New Zealand.

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