Reflecting on Sculptured Moments In Memory

Posted: March 6, 2024 / Essays

Anton Forde, ‘Papare’, Protection, Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe 2024. Photo: Richard Watson

Artist Anton Forde reflects on Papare/Protection at Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi 2023 and looks ahead to Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe 2024

As a sculptor living on an Island in the Hauraki Gulf I often hide away creating- sometimes for hours, sometimes for weeks and months. Much of this time might be processing intrinsically events of the world. One of the key motivations for my sculptures is to try and create works that will allow the world to be a better place for future generations. My current body of work is inspired by the systems our ancestors used to enable continual use of land through care, working together and a reverent respect for nature.

Today, with the hope and reality that little seedlings start growing up through these ancestral grounds, I reflect on the experience of exhibiting the work Papare/ Protection at the 25th Sculpture by the Sea, Bondi 2023. When I first proposed this work I was under no illusion of the task it would be to create, deliver and install my largest and most significant work to date on a clifftop in Bondi.

Gratitude for each day, for people and places are at the forefront of Papare/ Protection. Every day of physical, mental, spiritual challenges is borne by the work. Each day the reality of such a project brings a new challenge, new tasks, dusty clothes, more rain and tired hands. The artist’s gratitude for the support received whilst creating  is borne by the work.  In a small way, perhaps each pou/ sculpture is a gift back to sixty people whose supportive wisdom allows me to have a  place where I can create.

People have an incredible ability to help each other. This is a gift that is often overlooked when we focus on a sensationalist world. The lens is often directed towards division and detriment when unity and humanity are the real stories. Anger and misrepresentation are so prevalent in narratives that gain momentum and create fervour. The effects are a cacophony of noise that I can’t listen to these days. Music, positive thoughts and positive people keep me safe and inspired to create simple, sacred shapes and forms which allow me to smile in the dust.

Time stands still within the process of starting, working on, or finishing a creative project and brings a sense of happiness and purpose. With these works, my hope is to bring attention to the need for us to unify to protect Te Ao / the  world for future generations; together, create a symbolic offering of care and protection for the land and the ocean that connects Aotearoa and Australia. “Papare/Protection reminds us we are communal creatures, but no matter how many of us there are or how impressive we are- the ocean is beyond us.” Rosa Maria Falvo, 2023.

“Today, representation of the land is a major theme of Māori artists and Papatuanuku has become a principal visual concept.” Jahnke & Ihimaera, 1996, p.86. As this is the first time I have exhibited overseas I reflect on the responsibility of this work being connected to Te Ao Māori/The Māori World and the teachings of Toioho ki Āpiti/The Māori Visual Arts School-Massey University, were reflected in a universal light of sunlit rays reaching out on Bondi Point.

The connection with the natural world was a highlight of exhibiting Papare/Protection at Bondi.  Nature gave us a glimpse of what is possible if we stop for a while and think about the future, as all of our ancestors have done.   Each sunrise, different, hopeful, magnificent and magical. Breathing in the recollections of melting sunrises and breaching whales, to sit or stand alone in silence with the Papare Pou, or with others who understand – memories that allow life to make a bit more sense.

Papare/ Protection aims to create a sense of protection through carving each of the 60 Pou taller than humans to further connect with the notion that mother nature should be held in a higher place – protected. The 2.7 metre figures were installed in ten groups of six representing a kao kao/ chevron pattern to address the Pacific Ocean from the end of Marks Park on the south Bondi headland.

The Tikanga/ protocols around the work are grounded in the ancient practice of putting carved wood or stone markers to signify human interaction with mother nature- past, present and future.  The role of caregiver rather than caretaker is crucial to uphold healthy values that have been immortalised through ancestral systems that ensure humankind’s survival. Thousands of years of good growth can be undone in a moment. Rosa Maria Falvo also said that “humanity requires humility in front of  mother nature”.

The whakapapa/ genealogy of this work is grounded in Pou whakairo/ carving figurative forms- whilst also connecting with other first nation cultures in a contemporary sense. When exhibited overseas at Sculpture by the Sea, people made connections that these sculptures are distinctly Māori – yet international audiences were also able to connect  with their own cultures.

Some of the people who experienced Papare/ Protection shared stories of emotional inspiration. Many have described the site as being perfect for the work, almost like there’s something larger than humanity to be grateful for. Sculpture by the Sea founder David Handley said “Anton Forde’s sculpture is a stunning installation on the south Bondi headland overlooking the Tasman Sea.  It is at once powerful and contemplative, inviting the viewer to walk or sit among the figures to feel their protective embrace. To be selected as the favourite sculpture of the other artists in the exhibition from 21 countries around the world is a huge accolade that the work deserves.”

David is responsible for site  selection for the sixty pou that make up Papare/ Protection, which requires a sixty square metre area of land. That in itself tells a story of why Sculpture by the Sea continues to be a leading art experience globally.  To walk and experience 105 works created by 122 artists from 22 different countries is an experience. Each work interacts and connects with land, ocean and sky in some way. They all tell stories and inspire us with beauty and skill.

Papare/ Protection is deinstalled and is stored away until March. It has been invited to be exhibited at Sculpture by the Sea Cottesloe 2024, March 1-18.  Cottesloe provides a very different site, which will allow the work to be experienced in a new and equally special way.   The Cottesloe site enables gentle interaction with land, sea and sky. It seems symbolic that after the incredible sunrises of Bondi, the work will now experience a place that has been voted one of the world’s ten best places to view the sunset. In being exhibited on the west coast of Australia, perhaps the work continues to take its connecting spirit from Waiheke and New Zealand to the Indian Ocean.

As a sculptural work, Papare/Protection has made more of an impact than I could have anticipated. We trust that Papare/ Protection will find its new home at the right time. As a sculptor this gives me hope and confidence to continue to develop works.  In June 2024 I will exhibit a work that builds on Papare/Protection in my first public exhibition at Pātaka Museum + Gallery in Porirua.

Papare/Protection’s values of whānau/family, love, friendship, nature, belief and mystical beauty are captured by remembering its sacred moments on the Bondi headland.  I recall moments alone with crowds of people as sunlit fingertips caressed each pou, my smile as teardrops fell, while a whale breached as a final sign of hope in the one moment. That silent moment is the thing that makes me continue to create.

Toitū te marae a Tāne Mahuta, Toitū te marae a Tangaroa, Toitū te tangata.
If the land is well and the sea is well, the people will thrive.

Video – Anton Forde making Papare by Jake Bryant, Cinematographer

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