Robin White

Aotearoa New Zealand / Kiribati, b.1946
Ngāti Awa, Māori

Ruha Fifita

Tonga, b.1990

We are the Small Axe

  • 2015
  • Natural dyes and pigments on barkcloth
  • Purchased 2019
  • 5000 x 2000mm
  • 2020/007

The title of this tapa is a line from The Wailers’ song ‘Small Axe’. The artists use it to refer to struggles against colonial control in the Pacific, in particular Éloi Machoro, a leader of the Kanak pro-independence movement FLNKS, who smashed a ballot box with an axe in protest against the French territorial election in New Caledonia in 1984. Robin White and Ruha Fifita have collaborated on several tapa. White says, “We have created a hybrid artwork that integrates ancestral patterns and traditional design with contemporary imagery and pictorial narrative. The past is an anchor, a marker by which you can navigate forward.”Navigation is one of the themes in this work – the central shape is reminiscent of a vaka (canoe) filled with traditional and contemporary imagery being guided through the ocean by tuna (longfin eels) and fish. Tuna in particular are renowned for their extraordinary migratory journey from Aotearoa New Zealand to Tonga along the Kermadec Trench, locations that connect these two artists.

(Te Wheke, 2020)

Exhibition History

See this work extra close-up.