It's about commitment

Te Waka Huia performing in the Piazza San Marco, Venice, June 2009

Te Waka Huia performing in the Piazza San Marco, Venice, June 2009

Jenny Harper on New Zealand's presence at the 2009 Venice Biennale

A powerful and distinctive ceremony on the other side of the world in early June this year will remain vivid in my imagination for many months to come. Ancient Venetian interiors and streets resounded with a traditional chanted Māori blessing. Supplemented by the voices and movements of kapa haka group Te Waka Huia, it delighted locals and tourists alike. The presence of Aotearoa New Zealand was being ritually anchored at the 53rd Venice Biennale of Art.

This symbolic encounter between the spirits of two sea-faring traditions celebrated our return to the most prestigious event in the international art calendar, honouring in turn each of our artists and the visual impact of their work in this inspiring context. The blessings, which were followed by a traditional powhiri, haka and breakfast in the historic Piazza San Marco, were moving and transformational. We were in place at last.

The exoticism of the early morning ceremony on this occasion summarises an aspect of the country we have become. Indicative of our ability to link the ancient and current in meaningful ways, it signals the seriousness of our commitment to forging a special cultural identity in what is, relative to Italy, the new world.