He Waka Tuia exhibition Seen/Scene captures Southland’s LGBTQIA+ community

Southland’s Rainbow community is being recognised in He Waka Tuia’s latest exhibition, Seen/Scene.

Wellington art photographer Adrienne Martyn was commissioned to photograph 41 people from the Southland LGBTQIA+ community specifically for the exhibition.

The idea for the exhibition came about following a movement beginning in 1989 called Day Without Art, an international response to the HIV/AIDS crisis that was particularly impacting the arts community.

For one day, museums and art galleries across the globe closed or exhibited blank canvases demonstrating what a world without artists would look like.

On 1 December 1995, the Southland Museum and Art Gallery became the first museum and art gallery in Aotearoa to hold a Day Without Art exhibition, curated by then Art Gallery Manager, now Manager Southland Regional Collections, Wayne Marriott.

The following year, Southland Museum and Art Gallery was awarded a New Zealand AIDS Foundation media award for its work in promoting a better understanding of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the wider community.

The exhibition was held annually in Southland until 1999, and again since 2021 at He Waka Tuia.

“During that first Day Without Art exhibition, we had 2500 people through in 24 hours. At that time we had only one piece of negative feedback, so it will be interesting to see if we can have the same or similar conversations 28 years later.”

The idea for the Seen/Scene exhibition came about in 2021 after conversations started emerging from the New Zealand Society of Genealogists and internationally about the notion of bare branches on family trees. Bare branches refer to lines of a family tree that stop somewhere.

“This happens for a variety of reasons.

“It made me question how do we pull together a biographical archive of members of the LGBTQIA+ community that is actually the start of something that can become intergenerational and be very deliberate for Southland?”

The collection of 41 portraits was the starting point of an active collection that the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Trust Board would collect now and into the future, Marriott said.

He approached former Southland photographer Adrienne Martyn to head the exhibition.

She posted on Southland Rainbow social media pages outlining her task and asking for volunteers. There were a few tentative responses, but word of mouth helped bump Martyn’s imagined 20 portraits to 41.

She was able to set up a studio at Whare Taupau The Rest Room on Forth St where most of the subjects had a session with Martyn and together they reviewed and picked the best portrait.

“Everyone involved in this exhibition is either from Southland or has a connection to the region. All the portraits are completely authentic, I left it up to them to decide how they wanted to express themselves, and I think that really comes across in each portrait. Each one is completely different.”

Seen/Scene is on now until 8 October. More information can be found on the He Waka Tuia Facebook page.