Oamaru 2023: symposium highlights


When the Covid-related uncertainties of 2022 caused the postponement of the annual CTANZ symposium, there was talk of going online. The programme was well in hand – but we wanted to go to Oamaru, so we skipped another year. Roll on May 2023 and the decision proved itself with an exuberant turnout and another special event. The long summary will be in the next Context (coming soon), but here’s a brief highlights package.

It turns out that Oamaru in autumn is a really great place for a symposium. The weather was fine and warm, which made getting round on foot as pleasant as it was easy. Everything was handy: most people stayed within a few blocks of the Opera House, and the schedule allowed time to explore the neighbourhood: more glorious historic buildings, cool shopping, even a second-hand book sale across the road. Also just minutes away, the Forrester Art Gallery and the Waitaki Museum, the latter the site for the CTANZ 21 exhibition.

The programme was as always rich and varied, with papers ranging from the medieval  to the supermodern, the distinctly local to the virtual world. The presenters were also the usual mix of recent graduates and academics talking about formal research, curators sharing details of exhibitions from the past couple of years, and enthusiasts sharing their incidental passions. Tradition: observance and departure did not disappoint as a theme, and it resonated nicely not just with the historic environment, but also the history of CTANZ as it celebrated its 20th symposium and 21 years overall existence. The keynote speaker, Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace (Ngati Porou), highlighted a line by poet and critic TS Eliot on tradition being how the vitality of the past enriches the present, a point which was proved consistently throughout the weekend.

Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace speaks to technique during her keynote presentation at the 2023 CTANZ symposium.
Dr Patricia Te Arapo Wallace speaks to technique during her keynote presentation at the 2023 CTANZ symposium. Sue McLean looks on. Photo: Dinah Vincent

Patricia’s paper, Traditional Maori textiles: threads that link the past with the present, embodied the spirit of her chosen quote, and there could hardly have been a more appropriate keynote. Having been part of the CTANZ community since its early years, Patricia began by acknowledging her attendance at the second symposium two decades ago. Her moving talk linking the past and present, she spoke to people, knowledge, and objects. In particular, she paid homage to four ‘enablers’: the late Valerie Carson, Maureen Lander, Margery Blackman and Dante Bonica. From people, Patricia used Eliot’s definition to take us through the creation of textiles, the investigations of specific articles like the Stockholm and Pitt Rivers cloaks, the work by contemporary weavers to recreate historic techniques, and the way the patterns of the past are reflected too by modern designers and artists, for example the Mata Aho Collective. Alongside the narrative of material experiments, Patricia never lost sight of the mana of the objects, and the people and communities who treasure and care for them. She gave us much to think about and treasure; tēnā rawa atu koe, Patricia, for the range and warmth of your presentation.

The streams merged again on the second day for a special presentation by CTANZ co-presidents, Dr Stella Lange and Dr Natalie Smith of Dunedin. In honour of the anniversary, it was fitting that Stella and Natalie should offer up a brief runthrough of the first 21 years, from CTANZ’s genesis in a now-defunct Auckland cigar bar, through many symposiums and issues of Context and occasional guest speakers. There’s more to come on this work; anyone who would like to share symposium photos and memories to this project is invited to contact us via the CTANZ website.

Co-founders Tracey Wedge and Angela Lassig presented papers via Zoom; they were also among many other familiar names represented by work in the CTANZ 21 exhibition a few doors down at the Waitaki Museum. This small space contained multitudes: a Margery Blackman tapestry, Jo Torr kete, Jane Groufsky quilt. Other contributors included Jane Malthus, Tracey Wedge, Angela Rowe, Victoria McIntosh, Caroline McQuarrie, some of whom also presented papers. The selection showcased the talents of our members and reinforced the sense of organisational history that ran alongside the symposium’s main theme.

Another high point of the weekend was the presentation by Dr Catherine Smith and Mrs Ranui Ngarimu on Te Rā, the oldest known surviving woven Polynesian sail, now part of the British Museum’s collection. As noted by Patricia’s keynote, the sail has been the subject of considerable scholarly attention over the past few years and Catherine and Ranui reported in more detail on their work in a research team funded by a Royal Society – Te Apārangi Marsden fund grant. They were also to give the audience advance notice that Te Rā is returning to Aotearoa New Zealand on loan. It has since arrived and is now on display at the Christchurch Art Gallery until October, after which it will move to Auckland War Memorial Museum for another short stay. https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/exhibitions/te-ra

The symposium success is due to the enthusiasm of those presenting and attending, and the Opera House and Waitaki council team for looking after everyone so well. Particular thanks to Chloe Searle and Sue McLean for all their thoughtful application to coordinating the symposium and the local hospitality. A great weekend ended in the Oamaru sun with a satisfied energy that suggests that CTANZ has finished the first 21 years in good heart and ready for the next.

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