Words: Emil McAvoy
Artist and curator Nathan Pōhio (Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe, Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu, Tau Iwi) was recently appointed as senior curator, Māori Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and is already making his presence and advocacy felt.
Pōhio attended the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts, gaining a BFA in 1997 and an MFA in 2010, both majoring in film, and his widely exhibited art is primarily based in moving image and expanded cinema. He was a board member of The Physics Room for almost 20 years, and served as Chair for his last two years. He is co-vice president of Te Ūaka Lyttleton Museum, and a founding member of Paemanu, a charitable trust formed by a group of Ngāi Tahu art professionals coming together to create and drive opportunities that offer advocacy for younger generations. Before joining Auckland Art Gallery, Pōhio worked at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū from 2002 to 2021.
With the support of his Ngāi Tahu whānau (extended family), Henare Rakiihia Tau, Riki Te Mairaki Pitama, and most recently Rānui Ngārimu, along with the support of Te Maire Tau, Upoko for Ngāi Tūāhuriri, Pōhio assumed a cultural role for the gallery, arranging pōwhiri (welcome ceremony), mihi whakatau (speech of greeting), karakia (ritual chant) and waiata (song) to uphold the presence of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, wider Kai Tahu whānui, and the cultural integrity of Te Puna o Waiwhetū.
Since joining Toi o Tāmaki, he has overseen the development and successful realisation of Toi Te Kupu: Whakaahuatanga, Māori Art Symposium, an ambitious endeavour celebrating and showcasing the transformative power of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) as expressed through art, exhibition-making and wider creative practices. Pōhio is currently working with his colleague Julia Waite, curator, New Zealand Art at Auckland Art Gallery on a refresh of the Romancing The Collection exhibition. This is being undertaken as the Grey Building is preparing to undergo a two year restoration, offering an opportunity to further balance the exhibition – which features art works made during the Victorian era alongside contemporary art works – with a more diverse and inclusive representation of artists and subjects, including more women artists, tangata whenua (Indigenous people), artists of colour, and more representation of queer and fluid gender identities. He has an ongoing focus on more Māori art entering the gallery’s permanent collection, and further Māori engagement through the gallery’s exhibition program, public programs and events. He is also relationship building with mana whenua (local tribe) on project development to engage with the respective Iwi surrounding Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and beyond.
Pōhio describes the cultural value of manakitanga being at the centre of what he is doing: hospitality, making space for others to feel welcome, and offering support and advocacy. For Pōhio, this process of showing respect, generosity and care for others closely aligns with the roles of a curator.
Featured image: Emeritus Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Waikato) at Toi Te Kupu: Whakaahuatanga, Māori Art Symposium. Courtesy: Nathan Pōhio.
This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 103, January-March 2023.