Brett Graham

Brett Graham

Wakefield Dreaming, 2023, wood, scaffolding, synthetic polymer paint.

Courtesy Gow Langsford Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland.

Thanks to Biggs Construction, Firth, Placemakers, and Nigel & Bev Marshall.

Before becoming the architect of New Zealand colonisation, Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796–1862) was incarcerated in London’s Newgate Prison. He served three years for abducting and marrying a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, hoping to blackmail her rich father into supporting his political career. It was in prison that he devised his theory to increase the profitability of colonies by restricting land ownership. By delaying the sale of land to settlers, they would remain a landless workforce to be exploited, growing the wealth of the Motherland. Wakefield’s political writings redeemed him, and, in 1840, he was appointed Director of the New Zealand Company, where he put his theory into effect. But his plan, which overlooked the place of Māori people, would have real consequences for them. Brett Graham’s sculpture Wakefield Dreaming evokes and challenges Wakefield’s legacy. It is based on prison watchtowers—specifically the iconic ones at Paremoremo Prison, with its typically high percentage of Māori inmates. But there’s a twist. Graham says. ‘I’m conscious that, in the context of Waiheke, it is turning the tables; the wealthy and privileged being the ones being observed.’ While Wakefield is remembered as an innovative figure in New Zealand history, Graham’s sculpture entangles his ‘dreams’ with incarceration.

Brett Graham (b.1967, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui) lives in Waiuku, on the southern coast of the Manukau Harbour. He gained a BFA from Elam School of Fine Arts in 1988, an MFA from the University of Hawai’i in 1990, and a DFA from Elam in 2003. His imposing counter-monuments and anti-memorials address colonial violence and injustice. Rachael Rakena’s and his collaborative project Āniwaniwa was a collateral exhibition at the 2007 Venice Biennale. He was also in the 2006 and 2010 Sydney Biennales, and the 2017 Honolulu Biennial. In 2020, his landmark exhibition Tai Moana Tai Tangata at the Govett Brewster Art Gallery, in Ngāmotu/New Plymouth, earned him a 2021 Arts Foundation Laureate and a nomination for the 2024 Walters Prize. In 2024, he will be in the curated show at the Venice Biennale and in the Asia Pacific Triennial. He is co-curator of the current Sculpture on the Gulf.