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01 September 2019 —
17 November 2019

Moana Don’t Cry

Knitlab, Te Muri Waters, 2019 (installation view). Commissioned by Te Tuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. Photo by Sam Hartnett
2019 Graeme Atkins Waiorongomai Production still - large
TuanAndrewNguyen - The Island - Film Still 07 - 7371
Tuan Andrew Nguyen, The Island, 2017 (film still). 2048 x 1080p, colour, 5.1 surround sound. 42 mins. Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan Gallery.
Ioane Ioane performance - large 2
Ioane Ioane performance - large 1


‘We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood’.
– Teresia Teaiwa

The exhibition Moana Don’t Cry approaches the ocean from a number of angles.

The Pacific is a vast liquid continent connecting hundreds of cultural groups with a robust spiritual thread: for indigenous islanders, Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa is an ancestral home that both sustains and provides them with a fluid identity, as it did for ancient civilisations.

However, daily media coverage of environmental emergency around the world inundates our lives with news about melting ice sheets and unmanageable levels of sea plastic pollution. We hear reports of coral bleaching and underwater fracking for gas and oil that threaten marine species. Alongside the impact of ocean acidification, we are made aware of rising water levels, which endanger the very existence of a few Pacific nations.

Trouble in the Pacific is not new; history tells us that the region underwent 1,054 nuclear tests performed by the USA and France between 1945 and 1992. Colonial notions of the Pacific as remote and isolated favoured it as a site for military projects in the name of security, with islands employed as strategic places for unnoticed tests.

From times immemorial, our oceans have been the stage of countless migrations, conquests and exile, as well as providing a battlefield for territorial combats, and lying as silent witnesses of the Middle Passage and other economic projects.

Faced with past and present threats to ocean life, the exhibition addresses the need to protect life as kaitiaki (guardians) with a duty of care for the planet entrusted to us. An ontological turn connected to indigenous spirituality and ways of doing becomes paramount, to counter narratives of loss articulated by the colonial logic of dispossession.

Across the planet, coastal communities acknowledge the ocean as a nurturing entity connected to femininity and motherhood, the fundamental source of life. This metaphor doubles as a scientific fact, given that the oceans not only feed us but also produce most of the oxygen we breathe. Within the moana, motherhood and breathing collapse into the fundamental agents necessary for the perpetuation of the species, calling us to radical action through relational political ecologies.


Moana Don't Cry catalogue



Charlotte Graham and Mary Sewell in conversation