Connecting with Memento Moa

In Memento Moa, an exhibition of all new work at the Suter Art Gallery (through June 11, 2023), Gary Baseman creates a mythical land of hybrid creatures – exploring themes of migration, memory, and mortality.

In this series, Baseman mixes childhood memory with elements of popular culture (television, film, animation, books, games, and toys). Beyond his own original characters, he includes mini-portraits of icons David Bowie, Alfred Hitchcock, Leonora Carrington, and Frida Kahlo, among others. He pays homage to Sesame Street, Porky in Wackyland, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Where the Wild Things Are.

Baseman blends his hometown of Los Angeles with Aotearoa New Zealand. Extinct mammoths, moas, lost spirits, and wandering souls inhabit a transitional state between death and being reborn through imagination. The artist refers to some of the work as “starlight memories”, referring to how what we see of stars is actually light left from years ago. Thus, for loved ones, sometimes it is after their passing that they are more fondly appreciated.

“It’s always special seeing my drawings and paintings up on the walls in a formal art space, installed in a way that is far different from when it’s at my studio. I know that the show has many entry points. I hope everyone makes their own connections and meanings out of the work.”

Baseman engaged with many visitors during his time in New Zealand. Some contributed names of loved ones who have passed that Baseman added to sashes worn by Manny Moa in the installation titled Land of the Moa. For a children’s workshop, Baseman asked participants to bring in a photo of a loved one lost. Many brought in photos of dearly departed pets, which they drew with their own version of moas.

As one high school teacher commented: “A big question my Year 10 students are exploring in our whakapapa (ancestors) module is, how does it strengthen us. For me personally, when I dig deeper into Gary’s work, I feel permission (as an American permanent resident of New Zealand) to see myself (and my ancestors) with the moa and all art that goes with it. I’m not being dramatic to say that I feel a deeper sense of belonging (and connection) from this artwork.”

How do you connect with Baseman’s art? How do you think of migration, memory, and mortality?

Stay tuned: Memento Moa will be featured in the next issue of Art News New Zealand.

Photos by John-Paul Pochin

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