First Ans Westra Exhibition In The USA Urban Drift: Aotearoa / New Zealand

The first U.S. exhibition by pioneering New Zealand documentary photographer Ans Westra opens at New York’s Anastasia Photo on the Lower East Side on December 5

‘Urban Drift: Aotearoa / New Zealand’ centres around the theme of urban migration. Between 1945 and 1986, the proportion of Māori living in New Zealand cities grew from 26% to nearly 80%. Fuelled by industrialisation, employment opportunities and the allure of a ‘modern’ lifestyle, this period in New Zealand history has been described as the most rapid migratory movement of any population.

Born 1936 in Leiden, The Netherlands, and emigrating to New Zealand in 1957, Ans Westra lives and works in Wellington. She is responsible for the most comprehensive documentation of Māori culture over a 60-year period of significant political and cultural change in New Zealand. Regarded for their realism and spontaneity, Westra’s images bear witness to the post-war urban drift of historically rural Māori as they moved to urban areas and began living in a very different world, alongside Pākehā (New Zealand Europeans), often for the first time.

Westra emigrated from The Netherlands in 1957 and in 1962 began her career as a fulltime freelance documentary photographer, primarily working for the School Publications Branch of the Department of Education and Te Ao Hou, a Māori magazine published by the Department of Internal Affairs. Westra’s work for these two publications led her to travel extensively throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific. Her Humanist style was greatly influenced by Edward Steichen’s landmark international exhibition The Family of Man which Westra saw when it traveled to Amsterdam in 1956.

Westra’s historic work has resounding relevance in the current climate of diaspora and cultural pluralism. Central to her pictorial documents lie the tensions Māori faced, in the words of academic and write Ranganui Walker, in “the dual challenge of adapting to the demands of the urban industrial system and successfully transplanting their culture into urban centers.”

The enduring and intimate observation of Māori in Westra’s work has, in the words of renowned author, Witi Ihimaera, served as “confirmation that the photographer herself has become inextricably involved in the recording of the artistic and political imperatives of our time. In doing so, Ans continues to give us a pictorial whakapapa of our lives, a genealogy which charts the ever-changing destiny of the Māori.”

Ans Westra has received many recognitions of her work including the Companion of the Order of New Zealand Merit (CNZM) for services to photography in 1998, an Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2007, and an honorary doctorate from Massey University in recognition of her longstanding contribution to New Zealand’s visual culture in 2015. Her publications include Washday at the Pa (1964),  Māori (1967),  Whaiora (1988) and The Crescent Moon: The Asian Face of Islam in New Zealand (2009).

Urban Drift is presented in association with {Suite} of Wellington. The exhibition runs at Anastasia Gallery at 142 Ludlow St until February 22.

Image: Students performing, Wairoa, 1963, Ans Westra


Tags: Anastasia Photo  Ans Westra