Ani O'Neill and Daniel Malone are two exciting
young artists from Auckland, although currently O'Neill is based
in Wellington as the Rita Angus Fellow for 1997. O'Neill and Malone
introduced two elements that are sadly lacking in the Christchurch
art scene, and those are performance art, and art with a pacific
Ani O'Neill combines a celebratory approach to her Rarotongan
heritage with a savvy understanding of the mores of the art world.
Although her work seems simple and fun on the surface, it belies
a complexity of meaning.
O'Neill was brought up and trained by her Grandmother and Aunties
to learn traditional Pacific Island art forms, including tivaevae,
hat and mat weaving, and lei making, to name a few. O'Neill has
introduced these art forms into a gallery setting, overturning expectation
both by changing the context of these traditional forms and by subtly
introducing unexpected materials which alter the meaning of the
In her show, O'Neill made use of a clever and co-incidental pun
of her Christian name with the Maori Aniwaniwa , or "rainbow."
O'Neill uses the traditional global female fibre art activity of
crocheting to make a woollen rainbow. In this way O'Neill addresses
the issue of location in the Arts Centre in amongst craft shops.
Her wearable woolly work is also apposite in this cold climate.
But unlike the tasteful natural tones employed by local craftswomen,
O'Neill's heart is in the Pacific. The rainbow Tam has more associations
with Rastafarians than with skiing attire, and as such provides
a stand-in to fill the gap in local culture. O'Neill is aware of
the racially homogenous nature of Christchurch, and she is making
a quietly cheerful statement about colour.
O'Neill's titles come from the lyrics of two old favourites, "Take
me to Paradise" and "Yellow Bird." O'Neill's mother sent these songs
to her from Rarotonga in 1981 and so the titles carry a yearning
for warmer climes as well as for a spiritual home.
On an entirely coincidental note, "Aniwaniwa" is also the name of
the Department of Conservation Office from which a major Colin McCahon
painting was recently stolen. This was the first occasion in a long
time that art made the national headlines. Hot on its heels was
the debate over lack of funding for the Ralph Hotere show in Wellington.
O'Neill will be showing in the Wellington City Art Gallery at the
same time as Hotere. Unlike the bleak world views expressed in Hotere's
"Black Rainbow" series, however, O'Neill offers a more optimistic
world view, and invites the gallery visitors to try on the Tam and
think warm thoughts of a better future.