CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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RANKIN, Elizabeth
Imperial violations: undermining the conventional tropes of landscape. Michael Shepherd's New Zealand landscapes.

Session 11 Landscape and Spectacle

University of Auckland


Historically New Zealand landscapes presented a utopian world for aspiring colonisers; more recently they have been attractive to artists and tourists alike. Yet these landscapes have been despoiled by both past and present occupiers. New Zealand is a palimpsest of overwritten histories, embodying markers of an archaeological past, of historical conflict, and of more recent ecological menaces. Landscape is a site not only for humankind’s delight in the picturesque, but also its careless, even brutal, interaction with the environment.

The work of New Zealand artist Michael Shepherd demonstrates the potential for landscape paintings to encompass a far more nuanced range of meanings than has conventionally been associated with this genre. In painting a country with a colonial past, Shepherd considers the depredations of empire in New Zealand’s land wars, depicting changes wrought on the landscape and memories left behind. He also explores what he refers to as ecological imperialism, how developing agriculture and urbanisation have bequeathed a legacy of ravaged acres where native forests or wetlands once lay, the countryside despoiled by settlement and economic ‘progress’.

RANKIN, Elizabeth

Elizabeth Rankin has had a long career as an art historian. She was a professor and Dean of Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, and since 1998 has been Professor of Art History at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Her research engages with both countries, with a particular interest in art that has political significance, and has involved curating exhibitions as well as writing. Her many publications include books that aim to reclaim the history of South African artists who were previously marginalised, such as Rorke’s Drift: Empowering Prints (2003) and Listening to Distant Thunder: the art of Peter Clarke (2014), both co-authored with Philippa Hobbs. Her New Zealand publications include a number of catalogue essays on printmaker Marian Maguire, and edited volumes on two Māori photographers, Fiona Pardington: The Pressure of Sunlight Falling (2011) and Neil Pardington: The Order of Things (2016). She is currently writing a book, From Memory to Marble, on the development of the historical frieze of the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, with Professor Rolf Schneider of Munich.