“It’s just really a privilege to be that close to people,” says Ans Westra, the self-taught photographer who is credited with creating the most comprehensive visual record of New Zealand’s Māori culture. Made over a 60-year period of major political and cultural change in the country, her photographs record the flight of historically rural Māori to urban areas, where they began to live alongside Europeans, often for the first time.
“Urban Drift,” an exhibition featuring Westra’s photographs, is on view at Anastasia Photo in New York through February 22. “Westra’s historic work has resounding relevance in the current climate of diaspora and cultural pluralism,” states the gallery.
“Between 1945 and 1986, the proportion of Māori living in New Zealand cities grew from 26 percent to nearly 80 percent,” reports Anastasia Photo in the press release. Fueled by industrialization, employment opportunities and the allure of a “modern” lifestyle, this deliberate urban migration has been described as the most rapid migratory movement of any population.
After moving to New Zealand from The Netherlands in 1957, Westra embarked on a career as a full-time freelance documentary photographer. Primarily working for the Department of Education and Te Ao Hou, a Māori magazine, Westra traveled extensively throughout New Zealand and the South Pacific. A pioneer of the New Zealand documentary photography genre, Westra developed a humanist style known for its realism and spontaneity.
In 2016, a museum dedicated to Westra’s life and work opened in Wellington. Visitors can browse articles dating back to 1960 and view over 200 books featuring the artist’s images. Exhibitions change regularly.
By Ans Westra
Through February 22, 2020