Brett Graham

Brett Graham is a prominent and important contemporary New Zealand artist whose artwork has been included in exhibitions all over the world. Highlights internationally include the Honolulu Biennale 2017, the Venice Biennale 2007, the Sydney Biennale 2006 and 2010 and the 2013 survey of international indigenous art at the National Gallery of Canada. 

His 2020-22 “career-defining” solo exhibition
Tai Moana Tai Tangata is considered one of the most powerful and historically significant solo exhibitions ever to be staged in New Zealand. Large monumental sculptures explore the legacy of the New Zealand wars of the mid-19th century. Like much of his artwork, this exhibition brings together local narratives with universal and topical issues on the shaping of historical narratives, the Anthropocene and role of monuments in the public domain. A handsome hard-cover 148 page catalogue with images and texts on the work was published the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery to accompany the exhibition.

Grounded in Te Ao Māori, a Māori world-view, Graham produces large-scale artworks that explore indigenous histories, politics and philosophies. Questions of power relations are at the heart of his practice. Land and sea are often present, in metaphors of submersion and surfacing, as currents that flow through his work.

His work is formally strong but unlike much minimalist sculpture, his concerns are also political with his work is imbued with poetry and metaphor. He is highly regarded for his ability to abstract complex political, historical and cultural ideas into strong sculptural form.

One of Graham’s most important older works is
Āniwaniwa, made in collaboration with video artist Rachael Rakena for the 2007 Venice Biennale told the story of Graham’s father’s village on the Waikato River, flooded to make way for a dam. Āniwaniwa is a specific narrative with broader readings around cultural loss, global warming and rising sea levels.

The work was acquired by the National Gallery of Canada and Candice Hopkins, co-curator of Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, at the National Gallery of Canada wrote:
The fact that Brett draws upon the customs of Māori carving and recontextualises these practices within the language of contemporary art is what brings his work so much depth and makes it accessible for many different audiences.

His 2009 exhibition
Searching for Tangaroa employed the forms of high-tech underwater scanners, hand-carved in traditional patterns, in a mythical quest to locate Hui Te Ananui, the house of the god of the sea and the original site of carving. This work could be seen as metaphor for the artist’s approach to artmaking: seeking out a new language that materially and conceptually bringing together indigenous and contemporary beliefs and technologies.

Graham’s doctoral exhibition in 2003 at the University of Auckland, described by art historian Peter Brunt as “one of the most powerful and affecting artistic statements on the nature of Pacific history and identity”, examined the devastation caused by phosphate mining on the island of Banaba.

Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura) has a doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Auckland and an MFA from the University of Hawaii. His work is in public and private collections around the world. He has also produced several major public artworks throughout New Zealand and undertaken artist residencies in Europe, the United States across the Pacific.
Ark of forbearance
2022
Brett Graham
painted cedar
10.4m x 2.91m
Ark of forbearance
2022
Brett Graham
painted cedar
10.4m x 2.91m
Ark of forbearance
2022
Brett Graham
Ark of forbearance
2022
Brett Graham
Ark of forbearance installation view
2022
Brett Graham
Ark of forbearance installation view
2022
Brett Graham
Ark of forbearance installation view
2022
Brett Graham
Ark of forbearance installation view
2022
Brett Graham
Maungārongo ki te Whenua Maungārongo ki te Tangata
2021
Brett Graham
Carved Wood
Installation View, Govett-Brewster Gallery
Maungārongo ki te Whenua Maungārongo ki te Tangata
2021
Brett Graham
Carved Wood
Installation View, Govett-Brewster Gallery
Cease Tide of Wrong-Doing
2021
Brett Graham
Kauri, wood and metal
9600 x 3000 (diam) mm
Cease Tide of Wrong-Doing
2021
Brett Graham
Kauri, wood and metal
9600 x 3000 (diam) mm
Installation view
2021
Brett Graham
Tai Moana Tai Tangata
City Gallery Wellington / Te Whare Toi
Installation view
2021
Brett Graham
Tai Moana Tai Tangata
City Gallery Wellington / Te Whare Toi
Tukua te Karakia ki te Ao
2021

screenprint and graphite
1000 x 710mm
Tukua te Karakia ki te Ao
2021

screenprint and graphite
1000 x 710mm
Maungarongo
2021

screenprint and black sand
1000 x 710mm
Maungarongo
2021

screenprint and black sand
1000 x 710mm
O'Pioneer
2021

screenprint and black sand
1000 x 710mm
O'Pioneer
2021

screenprint and black sand
1000 x 710mm
Installation view 2
2021
Brett Graham
Installation view 2
2021
Brett Graham
Rukuhia 2
2009
Brett Graham
Hand-carved MDF, paint
1770 x 520 x 360 mm
Rukuhia 2
2009
Brett Graham
Hand-carved MDF, paint
1770 x 520 x 360 mm
Te Hokioi
2008
Brett Graham
pencil on paper
Te Hokioi
2008
Brett Graham
pencil on paper
Sutai (alternate angle)
2014
Brett Graham
corian and lacquer
500 mm diameter
Sutai (alternate angle)
2014
Brett Graham
corian and lacquer
500 mm diameter
Installation 1
2011
Brett Graham
Installation 1
2011
Brett Graham