On 17 June 1843 twenty six people perished in the Wairau Valley in a violent and bloody clash over land rights.
This was the first major confrontation between Māori and European colonists since the 1840 signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Treaty of Waitangi.
Pale History is a poignant sculptural installation 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. Burton has interpreted the Wairau Incident as a three dimensional history painting.
The ten 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 action, and the inclusion of contextual artwork, Burton allows viewers to stop and reflect on the path that lead to this violent confrontation and where it has taken us as a nation.
Burton draws our attention to history as an unfixed story. Some events are lost to time, motivations are often unknowable. The history we are told is often a biased, paler version of reality – 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, Curator, the Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakutū