Undiscovered: Tia Ranginui

Words: Emil McAvoy

Tia Ranginui (Ngāti Hine Oneone) was raised on the banks of the Whanganui River where she resides today. Ranginui is a self-trained artist and works full-time as a gallery assistant between two galleries in Whanganui. 

Ranginui’s Turangawaewae (spiritual homeland, place to stand) features prominently in her work, and provides a rich, historically layered and often spooky backdrop to her diverse photographic explorations. Bodies of water provide an ongoing source of inspiration and reflection, and act as sites upon which to both capture and stage photographs. Naturally, water in its many forms features as a recurring motif in her work, whether it is the Whanganui River itself, or more oblique and intuitive references such as pools or mist. She has also collaborated and exhibited with artist Conor Clarke in projects addressing water and its diverse array of historical and contemporary uses and meanings.

Ranginui critiques the way Māori have been (mis)represented in New Zealand art and imagery in a post-colonial context. Early works such as Wealth and Power, from the series The Intellectual Wealth of the Savage Mind, 2015, both speak to and subvert stereotypes of Māori perpetuated in mainstream New Zealand culture. 

In more playful work recently exhibited at Contemporary Art Space, New Plymouth, Ranginui imagines Patupaiarehe – a fair-skinned, red-headed mythological people in Māori folklore – hidden in plain sight living in middle New Zealand. In western folklore, Patupaiarehe would be seen as fairies, and are considered by Māori as people of the mist. For the exhibition Tua o Tāwauwau (away with the fairies), the artist staged fair-skinned red-headed subjects accompanied by ambiguous clouds of mist in the Whanganui suburb of Gonville.

There are qualities which remain elusive in Ranginui’s work, aspects which resist being pinned down through explanation. Her lens retains a commitment to fluid, intuitive making which is open-ended and sure to keep viewers on their toes.

Ranginui will present a solo exhibition at Laree Payne Gallery in Hamilton, Kirikiriroa around the time of Matariki this year, alongside a collaborative show with her daughter Ming Ranginui at Swine, a new gallery in Whanganui run by curator and writer Milly Mitchell-Anyon.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 96, April to June 2021.

Image: Tia Ranginui, Niflheim, 2020. Archival pigment ink on Hahnemuhle photo rag, various sizes. 


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