The New Zealand Portrait Gallery is not very big (just one of the sheds at Wellington Harbour) and doesn’t have a huge collection; in fact when I visited they only had 2 portraits on display. The rest of the space was filled with an exhibition of cartoons from down the years poking fun at the notion that China is trying to take over New Zealand. (The exhibition is part sponsored, of course, by a Chinese municipality…)
One interesting piece was two hoodies with apparently the words You Are No One. A reality about young hoodie wearers, perhaps? Or a view they have of themselves? Or an ironic line challenging them to think more highly of themselves?
It takes on a different meaning when you understand the Maori words No and One mean From and Rock or Clay; so the meaning can be You are from the Ground. This seems to refer to both the idea of being made from the ground – ‘you are but dust’, but given Maori status as the first people here it also suggest You are the people of the (this) Land.
The two portraits on display are both of powerful women. The first, Lady Bolingbroke, clearly doesn’t stand for any nonsense. The second is Elizabeth McCombs, the first woman elected to the New Zealand Parliament – or at least it’s her grand-daughter Carolyn McCombs dressed up to look like her. Read into that whatever you like…