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Luther Konadu
InDigiNous Aotearoa: Virtual Histories, Augmented Futures at Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art
January 17, 2018

The connecting tissue in the assembled works from InDigiNous Aotearoa: Virtual Histories, Augmented Futures at Urban Shaman is right there in the stylized title. These form-diverging artworks by seven Māori artists take the digital expanses as material for thinking about alternate pasts and desired futures. Situating this exhibition outside of New Zealand not only generates a compelling conversation with contemporary Indigenous practices in Canada, but it also parallels an ongoing thread by North American artists envisioning possibilities that are mindfully utopic. However, the artworks here address dystopian themes of colonization, loss of Māori sovereignty, and repressed cultural histories.

Rachael Rakena, Te Karakia o Mahoranuiatea, 2009-17, two-channel HD video

By way of video games, augmented reality platforms, 3D printing, avatars, video projections, and virtual reality headsets, we are tossed into enveloping visuals and sounds that bring us into the middle of their fantasies. But more so, we find ourselves in the fraught histories and personal anxieties that undergird those imagined fantasies. Maybe the latter would be lost on the casual visitor, and perhaps you could say that’s where the show succeeds the least. By the time you go through the process of downloading the app to view the other half of the show virtually, you’ll likely be distracted by the arcade-like gaming screens plastered on the gallery walls. Once you do have your app ready to go, you might find yourself locked in the allure of the forms that shoot out of the blended physical and augmented reality. Others might be on the skeptical side and grow tired of its flash.

But there are multiple ways to receive, experience, and think through the show. One thing it does best is its participatory aspect. There is something for everyone to grab on to and appreciate. Be it Johnson Witehira’s interactive video games and giant drawing prints, Kereama Taepa’s gravity-defying sculpted virtual ecosystems, sister duo Rachael and Hana Rakena’s moving image projections and ceramic pieces (from which visitors are invited to take a piece), or Suzanne Tamaki’s photographic works with additional augmented images – kids, parents, and teenagers will find something to engage them.

Taking a revisionist approach to a heavy past with an equal measure of historical revenge is a way of reclaiming a new political imaginary, which is what the artists in this show are essentially in pursuit of. As the digital world continues to make it easier to broadcast our desires, there’s a flippancy that arises from our engagement with the medium. It reduces complex cultural histories into a mere game or another mixed reality app, and that can be problematic. It risks too easily writing off stories that are already at the fringes.

InDigiNous Aotearoa: Virtual Histories, Augmented Futures continues until January 20.
Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art:
The gallery is not accessible.

Luther Konadu makes things such as photographs, paintings, and prints which he occasionally calls art. He self-describes as a transcriber. He contributes content to a publication called Public Parking. Most days his favourite colour is green and one of his goals in life is to never be an art brat. He is Akimblog’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @public_parking.



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