Critics’ Picks

Ayesha Green, Pomaderris Kumeraho, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 47 x 33 1/2". Photo: Sam Hartnett.

Ayesha Green, Pomaderris Kumeraho, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 47 x 33 1/2". Photo: Sam Hartnett.


Ayesha Green

Te Uru Waitākere Contemporary Gallery
420 Titirangi Road, Titirangi
December 10, 2022–May 28, 2023

In the early modern period when the European academies ruled supreme, figurative painting was organized by a strict hierarchy of genres, with still life relegated to the lowest echelon. To simply render an arrangement of objects—flowers, fruit, crockery, books—in paint was not considered an intellectual exercise. In her richly layered practice, painter Ayesha Green (Ngāti Kahungunu, Kāi Tahu) reinterprets historical images and artifacts to interrogate the values, mythologies, and systems of power that informed their creation and circulation. Having previously considered, for example, portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, the Madonna and Child, and Marcus King’s 1938 history painting depicting the (imagined) signing of New Zealand’s founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi, for “Still Life,” Green has turned her brush to this lowest of genres, presenting thirteen large still lifes in her signature flat, cartoonlike style.

In keeping with the tradition of still life painting, Green’s works boast a mixture of man-made and organic objects, taking the form of domestic tablescapes clothed in lace and laid out with carefully chosen books which allude to the manifold ways of framing the land in Aotearoa New Zealand. In each arrangement, a different sprig of local flora appears, tucked into repurposed bottles, jars, and tins once filled with cream, beer, peaches, artisanal water, honey. With their familiar shapes and labels, these vessels anchor us in the present place and time, where food and drink may rot and curdle but the plastic that contained them won’t break down for a thousand years. Green’s paintings can be viewed as both modern-day vanitases and as commentary on the colonial notion of New Zealand as the “land of milk and honey” which permeates to this day but will eventually spoil.