New Zealand at the Venice Biennale: Our most ambitious learning resource yet

New Zealand at the Venice Biennale: Our most ambitious learning resource yet

Head of Learning Innovation Miri Young introduces a digital learning resource for teachers which bridges the gap between New Zealand and Venice, and brings the digital artwork Lisa Reihana: Emissaries into classrooms.

What is the Venice Biennale

Some people refer to the Venice Biennale or La Biennale di Venezia as an ‘Art Olympics’. Countries from all around the world fund one of their very best contemporary artists to exhibit their work in front of a global art audience.

Why we wanted to bring the Biennale into New Zealand’s classrooms

New Zealand’s 2017 featured artist, Lisa Reihana and her show-stopping exhibition Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, presents a powerful learning opportunity for New Zealand students.

Reihana’s digital artwork In Pursuit of Venus [infected] was exhibited at the Auckland Art Gallery in 2015.

It’s a large format (23.5m long x 3.35 m high), panoramic video work in which Reihana has re-imagined Captain James Cook’s voyages to the South Pacific.

Reihana and her creative team have brought interactions between Cook, his crew, and indigenous people to life through performance and soundscapes, in collaboration with the many indigenous cultures represented from across the Pacific.

I found viewing Emissaries in Venice totally captivating, and seeing the number of international visitors of different ages engaged with the exhibition reinforced for me that Reihana’s artwork is a gift to us as educators: this beautiful and technically brilliant artwork raises important discussion around themes of representation and difference, time and change, and changing perspectives on New Zealand and the Pacific, as well as giving students a window into New Zealand art on the world stage.

The education team at Te Papa are dedicated to learning through visual arts, and inspired by the poignant themes in Reihana’s exhibition, New Zealand at the Venice Biennale: Digital Learning Resource has become our most ambitious resource yet.

Lisa Reihana in front of her work art work
Lisa Reihana, Biennale Arte 2017. Photograph by Michael Hall. New Zealand at Venice

The New Zealand at Venice Biennale: Digital Learning Resource

Reihana’s work is particularly relevant to a number of learning areas in the curriculum and she is already an NCEA model artist. For these reasons we designed the learning resource for Visual Arts and Social Science learning for years 7-13, although of course adapt it to your students’ needs at any level.

Rich with imagery and an interactive timeline, we’ve also created video interviews with Reihana, various curators and the team working on the New Zealand pavilion especially for you and your students to bring the experience of exhibiting in Venice to life.

Reihana is a leader in time-based art and a significant role model for young artists, and she shares our passion for engaging young people through and with art. We’ve created a range of individual and collaborative learning activities, and opportunities for students’ creative response to encourage your students to get hands-on.

A section of the Learning Resource on the website, 2017. Te Papa
A section of the Learning Resource on the website, 2017. Te Papa

Five learning pathways

The resource is arranged in five learning pathways that you can use one or all of, depending on your area of classroom inquiry:

  1. New Zealand at the Venice Biennale: discover the history of the Biennale and NZ’s past participation, the selection of Reihana to represent NZ at the Biennale, as well as the logistics of exhibiting in this historic and unique city;
  2. Clothes maketh the (wo)man: Costuming, representation and identity: explore issues of representation and difference in Reihana’s work with a focus on costuming, including students’ creative response;
  3. Back to the future: Reimagining Pacific encounter: examine the historical context for Reihana’s work and the nineteenth century decorative wallpaper which she references. Delve into connections between Te Papa’s taonga and collections and Lisa Reihana: Emissaries.
  4. Reimagining history through art: The power to retell stories: inspired by Reihana’s redressing of colonial representation, develop students’ critical thinking skills by focusing on artists who produce work that challenges accepted norms and stories, as well as producing art that responds to their own world.
  5. Wallpaper vs screen: Technologies in art-making practice: learn about the challenges and opportunities of creating art using time-based and digital media, such as green screen. Compare technologies and techniques in art making between the nineteenth century and today, and have a go at creating your own work.



We’d like to thank Lisa Reihana, Rhana Devenport, Jude Chambers and Cassandra Wilson for generously supporting the resource.

In addition to our Te Papa team of learning specialists, curators and digital teams, we worked with a panel of Visual Art, Social Science and Art History teachers to help shape our thinking, and the fabulous team at Cognition Education.

We’d love to hear how you have used the learning resource in your classroom or your own research. We’d be thrilled to see examples of students’ creative responses to the activities in the resource. If there are topics you’d like to see us produce learning resources or museum-based programmes for, please let us know.

The New Zealand at Venice Biennale: Digital Learning Resource is a collaboration between Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Creative New Zealand Toi Aotearoa, with support from Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

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