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September 5, 2011 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts |
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Cultural Cringe Vitriol

This was going to be a review of Robin White’s new exhibit at the Wellington City Gallery. It was going to be demure and tasteful; all the eyes dotted and every tee crossed. Alas, despite my best intentions, it was not to be.

On entry to the City Gallery I was informed that the entire gallery is currently only accessible to those who are prepared to cough up $10. This shocked me to my core as a regular visitor to the gallery, which is managed by the Wellington Museums Trust and funded heavily by the council, as generally it is free apart from special and visiting exhibits. My initial outrage at being asked to pay anything to enter MY public gallery softened into a wry sense of sorrow as I walked back towards the waterfront. Standing in my way was a colossal statue of a man effortlessly conforming to the golden ratio and ‘Southern man’ masculine stereotype while lifting a massive gold rugby ball towards the sky. This cultural monstrosity speaks to the heart of the issue at the gallery just next door in Civic square. The two images used to advertise the exhibit tread an elegant yet terrifying line between utilising the Dusky Maiden stereotype and just using images of Pacific Islanders in order to sell some kind of fucked up notion of a paradise in the South Pacific. It is absolutely no coincidence that this exhibition and the statue have just arisen in the two-month period leading up to New Zealand’s hosting of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

I am in no way attempting to attack the Cup, it should be quite a blast. What saddens me is the way we feel a need to construct a false image of our culture and attempt to rampantly market it to anyone who moves. The strangest example I have observed so far is the McDonald’s ‘Pavlova’—“because it doesn’t need to be a special occasion to have a pav”. Well,I’m sorry, McDonald’s, but yes, yes it does. To have an American-based company parade this kind of faux patriotic rhetoric is, in my eyes, deeply pathetic. Have we come to the point that the best way to advertise our cultural heritage and our current national identity is under the shadow of twin golden arches?

All three of these instances in Wellington paint a picture of severe cultural cringe in New Zealand; a kneejerk response to the impending flood of overseas tourists that are about to inundate our shores.

N.B. I don’t have a spare $10, and for a show created with a large portion of public money, I don’t expect to have to pay anything. The exhibit is probably amazing, I just couldn’t afford to see it; that in a way, is a review in itself.

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