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Exhibition highlights shipwreck oil threat


By Julia Wade

2 MF-Niagaraexhibit1 copy-689A historical act of war from WWII, and the potential environmental devastation that may still be lurking in local waters today, has compelled a Mangawhai artist to dedicate nearly a year’s work to a solo exhibition on the disaster.

Showcasing at Mangawhai Artists Gallery from February 8-21, the evocatively titled exhibit ‘Gold & Oil - The Legacy and Menace of the Niagara’ intends to expose and alert locals and visitors to a catastrophe waiting to happen, artist Nicola Everett says.

“Loving our coastline as we do, I want to tell the story of the Niagara, I want people to know what is lying on our seabed ready to implode… to oil leaking and clogging up the Upper Hauraki Gulf,” she says. “This is a disaster we can prevent!”

Deep in the waters just north of Mokohinau and Hen & Chicken islands, the shipwreck RMS Niagara remains, a victim of the first maritime act of WWII in the Pacific. Once laden with gold, the vessel’s fuel tanks allegedly still contain an undisclosed amount of oil although the volume has been estimated to be three or four times more than the ‘Rena’ spill of 2011. The tanks are slowly rusting and decaying after laying for nearly eight decades on the seabed, 120 metres below the surface.

‘Gold & Oil’ is Nicola Everett’s creative response to the impact of the Niagara oil, an interpretation of the threat shown through various media including storytelling, installations (3D objects removed from their usual context to be seen from a different angle), and powerful print images.

Viewers’ sense of smell will also be stimulated, with the unusual medium of bitumen featuring in some works. However there will only be a trace of the scent Everett says, so not to overwhelm.

“The installations have bitumen, ceramics, oil, rust, birds and plants illustrating the impact of oil in our ocean, and contrasting that will be clean, uncorrupted marine well-being items,” she says. “A series of woodblock and calligraphic prints augmented with hand painting, gold leaf and collage tell the intriguing aspects of the history of the Niagara.”

Although most of the artworks are displayed, as to be expected, on the walls, viewers will also have to look to their shoes to take in the entire exhibition, an artistic angle specifically designed to make a sobering point.

“The floor art is to show that if the disaster happens, the most obvious impact will be at people’s feet,” Everett says. “Its purpose is to highlight that if we don’t deal with this, we’ll be walking through the aftermath on our shores.”

For Everett, a well-known artist especially for her printmaking, Gold and Oil is a reflection of her interest regarding the balance of nature and how humans have altered it to a point of no return.

“I hope people will question what we value today… in 1940 they wanted the gold,” she says. ”Today we treasure our sea and all that lives in it from the smallest microorganisms to our fish, sea plants and birds. Today our priority is saving what we have, not letting it be destroyed, and ensuring the sustainability of our environment.”

n ‘Gold and Oil: The Legacy and Menace of the Niagara’ will be on exhibit from February 8 at 6pm to February 21 at Mangawhai Artists Gallery, 45 Moir Street, Mangawhai Village. For more information visit mangawhaiartists.co.nz/nicola-everett.

Artist and environmentalist, Nicola Everett, in her home-based studio where she has spent a good part of the year creating images to provoke thought and action on a potential environmental disaster.

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