Saturday, September 17, 2016

Recent whale sightings in New Zealand art and literature

A lecture to be held next week at Victoria University of Wellington will explore Gregory O’Brien’s “sightings” of whales in contemporary New Zealand art and literature.
The lecture, titled Always song in the water, will analyse the ways in which whales are used as metaphors and potent symbols, and continue to surface, often quite surprisingly, in all manner of personal and cultural narratives.

“When a whale appears in a work of art, poetry, or story, it can be serving all sorts of purposes and doing all sorts of things. This is why it excites me as a subject,” says Mr O’Brien.

He describes whales as “the ambassadors of the ocean” and aims to draw comparisons between humans, whales, and the ocean itself in his lecture, while also bringing people’s attention to other migratory species of the ocean including “jandals, shipping containers, and plastic”.

“I see whales in my mind as an entity between the environment out there and the human world. There is that fascinating connection between whales and humans—we are both mammals, we have similar social and family structures, languages, and love for music and sounds.”

The lecture will reference New Zealand artists and literary figures such as Colin McCahon, Witi Ihimaera, Anna Jackson, Jo Torr and John Hovell.

“When I reference these artists, I’m exploring their work and expressions of whales in an open ended way. Whales, and the ocean, are vital ingredients of who we are and where we are, living in an island in the middle of the ocean, as New Zealanders.”

Mr O’Brien is an established New Zealand poet and artist and the 2015-16 Stout Memorial Fellow. This lecture draws on a chapter from a book he has been working on during his fellowship, titled ‘We went ashore one morning’ - art, literature and the environment, which analyses the way paintings and poems can speak to, for, and of a place. In 2012 Mr O’Brien was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement (Non-fiction). The same year he received a Laureate Award from the Arts Foundation of New Zealand. In the New Year's Honours, 2013-14, he was awarded a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the arts.

What: Stout Memorial Lecture 2016: Always song in the water

When: 4.10pm, Wednesday 21 September

Where: MacLaurin Lecture Theatre 102, Kelburn Campus

For more information contact Natalie Hampshire on 04-463 6908 or

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