Writing, interviews and reviews /

in spite of ourselves: approaching documentary

Installation view, St. Paul Street Gallery, 2012.

Rachel Healy, 2012
Rachel Healy on ‘In Spite of Ourselves: Approaching Documentary’, Curated by Fiona Amundsen, Dieneke Jansen and Vera Mey

In Spite of Ourselves: Approaching Documentary, Curated by Fiona Amundsen, Dieneke Jansen and Vera Mey

From Rebecca Ann Hobbs’ video of VOGUE dance crew ‘waacking’ in Mangere Mall to Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria’s home movie of women preparing for a wedding and John Lake’s stunning photographs of the last Wellington local body election, In Spite of Ourselves: Approaching Documentary, presents new ways of looking at, and thinking about, documentary photography, video and sound. Opening on 8 September, the exhibition takes Ans Westra’s controversial images from Washday at the Pa as its starting point but features works by three generations of New Zealand and international artists. In total, 105 works by 17 artists make up the exhibition.

Sophia Al-Maria’s 3 minute home movie, For Your Eyes Only, gives us insight into another culture, so often portrayed to the West only as a stereotype. It features a lively group of women getting dressed-up for a relative’s wedding. Much like any group of women in any part of the world, hair and make-up is a focus and the women are seen chatting, laughing and playing with their children. Because the work has been filmed in female-only quarters, the artist has requested that only women and their young children view the video, a request that The Dowse will respect by providing a private viewing space behind its reception area.

Like many Western conventions (men’s and women’s changing rooms, gentlemen’s clubs, hen’s and stag parties), The Dowse asks that New Zealanders respect the privacy of the women in the video. Sophia describes the work as portraying “universal issues familiar to all women, but with different clothes in a different city… The further this piece goes from its home, the more important its message becomes.”

Auckland artist Rebecca Ann Hobbs’ video Mangere Mall was made last year and presents dancers ‘waacking’, a dance style originating from the disco era of the Los Angeles underground club scene in the 70s. “I am completely preoccupied with music, dance and place at the moment, for example how do all things Dancehall, which originates in Jamaica, become manifest when the culture is practiced in a South Auckland locale?” she asks.

Wellington photographer John Lake is well known to Dowse audiences for his 2010 exhibition Crude Futures. His work for In Spite of Ourselves is a series of portraits from a bigger body of work, The Candidate, which documented the 2008 Wellington central election. Photographed between early August 2008 and election night in November, the series came about after Labour candidate Grant Robertson’s office moved in across the road from Lake’s studio.

Dutch-born, Lower Hutt photographer Ans Westra’s Washday at the Pa, 1964, was produced for a Department of Education school journal. It attempted to describe a day in the life of a rural Maori family but was controversial and eventually withdrawn following protests by the Maori Women’s Welfare League. Later that same year, Westra republished it with extra images. She has maintained contact with the family and in 1998 produced Washday at the Pa Revisited.