So It Vanished: Art, Taboo and Shared Space in Contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand

Jonathan Barrett


In February 2012, The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt, near Wellington, planned to host So It Vanishes, an exhibition by acclaimed Mexican artist Teresa Margolles, whose often shocking works seek to highlight how dispensable human life has become in the parts of Mexico riven by drugs wars. Margolles’s installation would have used infinitesimal amounts of morgue water in a bubble mixture dispensed into an empty, silent room in the same building that sacred Māori treasures are housed. The incorporation of water used to wash corpses in So It Vanishes, particularly in proximity to cultural treasures, would have been deeply offensive, indeed dangerous, for Māori people. Following objections, the exhibition was cancelled. This article analyses the cancellation of So It Vanishes and seeks to answer whether and how transgressive art and indigenous beliefs may be reconciled in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand.

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