01 Mar 2023

This content is tagged as Creative NZ .


Stephen Wainwright
Posted by Stephen Wainwright

Chief Executive | Pou Whakahaere

Two Totara tile

It has been a week of sad news with notification of the sudden passing of Ron Brownson coming through, so soon after the passing of Ans Westra. Two Tōtara of the Visual Arts world have fallen. 

Ron Brownson

Ron, he was always Ron, was the Senior Curator of New Zealand Art at the Auckland Art Gallery (Toi o Tāmaki), and a living rākau whakapapa. In more than 40 years of service at the Gallery he met hundreds of artists, curated a host of important exhibitions and formed innumerable relationships at home and abroad. His recollection of the conversations that flowed from those relationships was singular and remarkable. He would recognise the provenance of any New Zealand art in an instant, the artist and the influences visible in the work. 

His career spanned a phenomenal period of growth in the visual arts in New Zealand. Ron was a one-stop shop in terms of knowing the fortunes and careers of artists and the evolution of contemporary arts practice over that time. A guided exhibition tour with Ron was a wonderful, enlightening and unforgettable experience.

The Auckland Art Gallery has this link to Ron, and his prodigious contribution.

Ron was a strong advocate for visual arts in New Zealand, and of the contribution of the Auckland Art Gallery. Ron had a way with people and was very persuasive with the patrons and for the ongoing growth and development of the ‘collection at the Auckland Gallery’. This is a legacy New Zealanders will enjoy for generations. He was likewise a friend, mentor and champion of artists and the visual arts more broadly. Ron was an early champion of Pacific art and artists. It was natural that this support transferred to his long and important service as a trustee of Tautai Pacific Arts Trust.

Ans Westra

Ans was one of a number of post-war immigrants who came to New Zealand and enriched the arts scene and our cultural life. Ans came from the Netherlands, ravaged by World War Two. Her family sought a better life and she arrived with fresh eyes, and she never stopped looking and seeing her new home. My recollection is that her practice moved from black and white to colour.

Over time the work of Ans Westra has become highly sought after and collectable. The great gift of photography is that the camera is so portable and democratic, faithfully capturing what the photographer sees through the viewfinder. There is I think a warmth to her photos, and her capturing of artists and cultural leaders is a marvellous legacy.

She was from the generation that was self- taught and learnt through doing; there simply wasn’t the range of educational opportunities that were later available and seized with both hands by talented and acclaimed photographers such as Anne Noble and Fiona Pardington.

Nearly 60 years on, her documentary series Washday at the Pa still looms large in any consideration of Ans’ work. Published in 1964 by the Education Department’s School Publication section, Ans wrote the text and took photographs during a visit to Ruatoria. Capturing a day in the life of a rural Māori whānau, the images Ans captured of the family’s living conditions caused enormous controversy. As a result of the objections raised, all 38,000 copies of Washday at the Pa were withdrawn from circulation by the Minister of Education at the time.

In 2011 Creative New Zealand supported {Suite} Publishing to re-launch of a new edition of the Washday at the Pa series. The book included images made for the 1964 first and second editions as well as images made by Westra in 1998 as part of a subsequent project: Washday at the Pa Revisited. Accompanying the images was text by Mark Amery, chronicling that chapter of our history.

The work of Ans Westra continues to command attention; Foxton, The Dowse, and Wellington have all shown her photographs relatively recently. 

The collection of images exhibited in the touring exhibition and publication Handboek, facilitated in no small part by Luit and Jan Bieringa, provides a terrific overview of Ans’ work.

For further reading about Ans Westra please visit the Te Papa website. 

E te ika huirua, ngā Tōtara o te ao toi ataata/ tango whakaahua haere rā, moe mai rā korua.