Sam Thomas is a Pakeha, a white New Zealander, and in this solo exhibition at Bowerbank Ninow in Auckland he made a number of sensitive sculptural gestures in acknowledgment of that complex reality. Intensified by its exhibition in 2019, the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s landing in the port of Gisborne, “Pakeha Gifts” features a handblown glass chandelier in the shape of a bunch of yellow and green plantains, and a wall hung with forty cast-recycled-aluminum patu (a short Maori club). The installation remakes important local trading objects into elegant replicas, but in that translation much that is not always so tidy comes to bear: the fate of forty brass patu made for but never re-gifted to the Maori by Cook’s boatmate Joseph Banks, the massive Tiwai Point aluminum smelter owned by the multinational Rio Tinto, the relationships Thomas himself has with artisans, and the availability of raw materials in the places where he lives. This has always been the basis of world trade: materials, relationships, obligations, currency, transformation. The radicality of Thomas’s version is the thoughtfulness with which he acknowledges his own place in that economy.
—Lori Waxman 2/15/20 7:17 PM