The Venice Biennale is known for its national pavilions, where participating countries showcase their star artists. While a few enter Venice through this front door, there are other opportunities to be seen. These include Personal Structures, a concurrent biennial group show organised by the European Cultural Centre. This year, Cook Islands artist Mahiriki Tangaroa has been selected. She follows New Zealand artists who featured in previous iterations, including Judy Millar in 2011, and Scott Eady and Darryn George in 2013. However, this is the first time a Cook Islands artist has been seen in Venice at Biennale time.
Tangaroa has made Kaveinga: Angels of the Ocean, comprising a dozen new paintings, tailored to her space in Palazzo Bembo on Venice’s Grand Canal. The project refers to Polynesian wayfinders who voyaged across the Pacific Ocean for millennia. She says: ‘As seafaring people, navigation was critical to our livelihood, to reunite with neighbouring tribes and family, to seek and settle new lands. The skill and knowledge of the navigator was held in the highest regard. The ability to read the constellations of the stars, patterns of the ocean, and ominous signs in the weather ensured safe passage on what was often an uncertain journey.’
Organised by Rarotonga’s Bergman Gallery, Tangaroa’s inclusion in Personal Structures (23 April–27 November 2022) follows hard on the heels of the Oceania exhibition at the Royal Academy, London, and Musée du Quai Branly—Jacques Chirac in 2018, and the Christie’s auction Oceania Now, earlier this year, which also included her work. Gallerist Ben Bergman says Tangaroa’s project is “the latest statement of cultural reclamation from the Cook Islands, where traditional knowledge is being rediscovered, reclaimed, and preserved in visual art forms, carvings, dance, costume, festivals, tattoo, games, language, books, fashion, video, film, and social media.”