NYC gallery to show New Zealand documentary photographer’s work
+December 02, 2019
The work of photographer Ans Westra will be featured in an upcoming exhibit in New York in December – the artist’s first solo show in the United States.
The exhibition, entitled Urban Drift: Aotearoa / New Zealand, is slated to open December 5 and run until February 22 at Anastasia Photo, located in the Lower East Side of New York City. The gallery specializes in documentary photography and photojournalism. The word Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand.
Born in the Netherlands, Westra became one of New Zealand’s most well-known photographers for her documentation of the indigenous Māori people. In 1957, she had traveled to New Zealand to visit her father, and she began working as a freelance photographer mainly for the country’s Department of Education and Te Ao Hou, a magazine published by the Department of Māori Affairs.
In 1964, Westra’s writing and photographs were published in Washday at the Pa, a school journal made for young students. The book showed a day in the life of a rural Māori family awaiting relocation to a city home, and was controversially removed from circulation by the Department of Education. The piece sparked debate about how indigenous people are depicted in the media, and was later republished privately.
Author Witi Ihimaera wrote the introduction to Westra’s book, Whaiora: The Pursuit of Life, and described her work 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.”
During her career, Westra has also documented other aspects of New Zealand’s history, including environmental damage and the 1981 anti-Springbok protests – a series of large demonstrations against matches played between New Zealand and the South African rugby team, the Springboks. More than 150,000 people demonstrated against the tour because of South Africa’s apartheid policy.
In 2016, a living museum in Wellington, New Zealand was created to display Westra’s work.