November 30, 2017
From the opening to closing of ‘Lisa Reihana: Emissaries’
December 19, 2017

Closing thoughts from 2017 Commissioner Alastair Carruthers

Paolo Baratta (La Biennale di Venezia President), Lisa Reihana, Governor-General HE The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, Alastair Carruthers CNZM.

The exhibition Lisa Reihana: Emissaries has now closed in Venice, but its impact will continue through presentations over the next two years in numerous major public galleries across the world.

The demand to present Lisa Reihana’s work doesn’t surprise me. From the moment she wondered about reimagining 200 year old French wallpaper, Lisa knew she could be on to a killer art work, and she was right.

But the leap between that initial thought and the final presentation of Emissaries in 2017 in Venice has been mighty. The ambition and scale of Lisa’s final vision is vast. Her stories and evocations of humanity transcend any wallpaper block prints or historical record. And many years of painstaking work, research, trial and error, and technical breakthroughs have been necessary.

Lisa never gave up. Nor did the large number of people who assisted in the creation, commissioning, investment and further development of her opus magnum ever doubt that it would be as good as it finally is. I sincerely thank and will never forget the team that worked on the Venice project over the last two years – the final phase in Lisa’s work. I recognise and appreciate many others who preceded us.

To the talented team at Creative New Zealand, our curator Rhana Devenport, our Head of Patrons Leigh Melville, our Governor General HE The Rt Hon Dame Patsy Reddy, our Embassy in Rome, our partners, sponsors, supporters and patrons, our great Venetian friends at the Biennale, and Alice Tibaldi, Diego Carpentiero and Mara Vittori – heartfelt thanks for your work and generous support.

I went to Venice three weeks before the exhibition closed and found myself just as mesmerised and curious as the first time I saw in pursuit of Venus [infected] in Auckland nearly three years earlier. I will never stop thinking about this artwork. But what affected me most deeply were the comments left in the visitors’ book; page after page of handwritten notes left by people who couldn’t walk away without recording something about the way they were affected.

The languages and home countries of these visitors are far wider than Captain Cooks’ destinations – though he visited and mapped 25 percent of our planet in nine years. This, coincidentally, is about the time it has taken Lisa to make Emissaries.

I took photographs of over a dozen pages at random. The comments quoted below represent hundreds of similar sentiments.

“Impossibly impactful.” (New York)

“Deeply moving. Great exhibition.”

“Thank you so much for this master piece. The world needs to listen to the message of our people.”  (Puerto Rico)

“Beautiful! I’ve never seen something like this. Thank you.”

“Wow! Immensely spectacular. I came to see this pavilion. Took my breath away.” (Canada)

“Great, J’Adore.” (Paris)


As for what I feel about Lisa Reihana: Emissaries now that the project has ended – I cannot say it better than this:

“Fantastic. You are great. A masterpiece.” (South America)