For 18 months Olivia Webb worked closely with five New Zealand families to write songs that reflect their feelings about place and belonging in Aotearoa. Each of the families, including the artist’s own, composed an anthem that embraces their values, concerns, and aspirations. These songs have different vocal qualities, musical structures, and lyrics, often including ideas that do not feature in New Zealand’s current national anthem ‘God Defend New Zealand’, a musical setting of a poem written by Irish-born Thomas Bracken in the 1870s.
The families in this artwork have cultural and ancestral ties to Kiribati, Zambia, Samoa, the Philippines, England and the Netherlands. Their anthems are sung from their lounge rooms, emphasising both the personal and political qualities of using one’s voice. These songs form a collective expression of our community today, acknowledging the rich diversity and constantly changing nature of Aotearoa.
Anthems of Belonging is normally exhibited as a life-sized multichannel video installation. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the artwork has been edited for exhibition via this online platform for new listeners and audiences to experience.
The social and political ground has shifted significantly since its latest exhibition at The Dowse Art Museum (summer 2019-2020). The living rooms we see are spaces where families worked from home and attended online school during lockdown. The Tiibin family anthem – which addresses issues around the climate crisis and the need to plan for future climate refugees – is thrown into greater relief against the backdrop of a global pandemic, where nations have closed their borders while carbon emissions fleetingly fell, along with global stock markets and profit margins. Meanwhile, Musonda Chembo’s words around history and racial injustice resound the calls from Black Lives Matter protesters around the world.
Heartfelt thanks to all the families who contributed so much to Anthems of Belonging. This project was made with support from Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa.
Paeans to Diversity – EyeContact