PALE HISTORY:   : : : : :

An Unfixed Story

On 17 June 1843, 26 people perished in the Wairau Valley. Violently clashing over land rights, this was the first major confrontation between MaŻori and colonials since the 1840 signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Treaty of Waitangi. Pale History is a poignant exhibition by Nelson- based artist Sally Burton that examines the complex history and climactic moment that sparked what came to be known as the Wairau Incident.

With a practice steeped in the exploration of historical narratives and leading on from her major exhibitions The Wreck of the Delaware, in which she responded to the 1863 wreck of the brigantine Delaware, and White Gold, an installation that examined the history of dairy farming on the Waimea Plains, Burton has approached the Wairau Incident as a three-dimensional history painting. The monochromatic figures, constructed from found wood and draped in delaminated tapa cloth, are strong, cunning, raw, frail, passionate, evocative and ambitious. Burton freezes the figures at the moment Te Rongo has been shot; the spark that ignited conflict. Through this installation and the inclusion of contextual artwork, Burton allows viewers to stop and reflect on the path that led to this violent confrontation and where it has taken us as a nation.

In keeping with the complex nature of the Wairau Incident, Burton has created an installation that embraces the intricacies of the event. Having researched the Incident for over two years, Burton has brought together text and images from multiple primary and secondary sources, collaging them to highlight the manner in which history is reconsidered as facts come to light and our perspective as a society evolves. Rather than revising, Burton draws our attention to history as an unfixed story. Some events are lost to time, motivations are often unknowable and multiple viewpoints are sacrificed for the telling of an easy narrative. The history we are told is often a paler version of reality, one which is confusing, messy and uncontainable. Burton’s strength is her uncompromised approach to interpreting the best and worst of our ‘pale history’.
Sarah McClintock, Suter Gallery Curator


An Unfixed Story

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