Pataka was enveloped in a softly defused grey light this morning. The surrounding air felt heavy with moisture and the Porirua basin seemed eerily quiet as translucent veils of silent rain fell upon the lagoon.
Before the museum opened today we received the sad news that Manos Nathan, a leading Maori ceramic artist, one of the founding pillars of the Nga Kaihanga Uku collective and a generous teacher and mentor to many, had passed away.
The melancholy atmosphere outside perfectly reflected the inner feelings of the Pataka whanau as we remembered our personal experiences of Manos and pay tribute to his achievements as an extraordinary artist and cultural leader.
Compared with many of my colleagues, I only knew Manos for a short time. We met shortly after I joined the Pataka team in late 2012 when I was grappling with my first curatorial project; a 27 year survey exhibition of pivotal works by the Nga Kaihanga Uku ceramic collective. At that stage I knew very little about the contemporary Maori ceramic movement and hadn’t even heard of Nga Kaihanga Uku so felt totally out of my depth and unsure of where to start. It was my good fortune that the first artist of the collective I met and began to talk with was Manos Nathan.
Manos was extremely generous with his vast knowledge of contemporary Maori art and the origins and ethos of Nga Kaihanga Uku from the outset. With his patient guidance, I began a richly rewarding curatorial journey into contemporary Maori ceramic art that resulted in the Uku Rere exhibition. Uku Rere opened at Pataka in July 2013 and has recently returned to us after two years of touring institutional venues throughout New Zealand.
It doesn’t seem entirely coincidental that yesterday afternoon I was in our temporary art store securing some recently collected works at the time Manos passed away. It was just after 4pm as I turned to leave the room that I came face to face with the otherworldly seated female terracotta figure from his Whakapakoko series. I had always found her rather intimidating but yesterday afternoon she seems especially so as she forcibly held by gaze.
The many wonderful works Manos has left behind will ensure his extraordinary legacy continues to enrich the cultural life of our nation for generations to come. For those who were fortunate enough to know Manos personally we grieve with you and send our deepest sympathy.
Contemporary Art Curator