Contemporary Art

Since the time of Gauguin, pacific contemporary art has been defined by fantasy postcard images of swaying palm trees, white sandy sun drenched beaches, azure lagoons, the ubiquitous frangipani flower and clichéd, dusky island maidens.

Of more recent times, the Cook Islands have begun to realize its potential to become an exception to this rule.

When considering the origins of this art movement, it is important to acknowledge the role of the first two contemporary artists in Cook Islands history.

In 1962, American artist Rick Welland arrived on Rarotonga with his wife and son. One year later, fellow artist Edwin Shorter found his way to Rarotonga via Tahiti. Both artists were the first commercial artists, living and working on Rarotonga. Explosively coloured island landscapes, legends and figurative works resulted and were quickly consumed by visitors and locals alike.

Throughout the next thirty years, exhibitions by local, resident and visiting artists became semi-regular events.

In the late nineties a new art movement began, led by returning Cook Islands artists Ian George, Mahiriki Tangaroa and Tim Buchanan.

Painted conversations about post colonialism, cultural & social questions and the future of a small pacific nation began. Exhibitions became a regular occurrence and local galleries where soon supported by private sector sponsorship. Art residencies, both public and private came into existence and local artists soon became household names.

Since 2001, Cook Islands Contemporary Art has spanned the broader pacific, being exhibited in New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Europe. Highlights include the travelling exhibition Te Ata Ou to Christchurch in 2003, Tivaivai artist Tungane Broadbent’s inclusion in the Queensland Art Gallery’s Asia Pacific Triennial 2006/07 and an ongoing series of shows in New York that included the exhibition MANUIA, opened by Helen Clark in 2010 and multiple appearances at the annual VOLTA art fair. In 2016, Bergman Gallery exhibited at the Auckland Art Fair. In 2017, Cook Island’s artist NiaVal Ngaro was included in the prestigious UNESCO International Woman’s Day exhibition in Paris, France.

A schedule of exhibition information can be found on

Kimi Anga Ou diptych by Loretta Reynolds
Taking Flight by the late Ian George
Mahiriki Tangaroa, Return of the Prodigal Son
Sylvia Marsters, Elemental
NiaVai Ngaro exhibition at Bergman Gallery
The Musicians by Tim Buchanan
Exhibition at Bergman Gallery