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Internationally acclaimed artist brings Justice to Freyberg Place

Published: 26 October 2017
Photo Credit: David St George

If you’ve taken a stroll through Freyberg Place recently you might have spotted the scales of Justice on the O’Connell Street façade of the refreshed Ellen Melville Centre. 

The striking new sculpture was created by internationally acclaimed New Zealand artist, Lisa Reihana. It celebrates the life of Ellen Melville, the first woman elected to city council in New Zealand and advocate for women in public life. 

We caught up with Lisa on her inspiration behind the sculpture and her experience exhibiting at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Tell us about the concept behind Justice and what inspiration you took from Ellen Melville’s life in creating the sculpture?  

I wanted the bronze sculpture to form the centrepiece of the façade – it's a strong, singular form with gentle curves, while the whimsical abstract wall composition has a 50s feel, taking its cue from the Parnell Baths mural by James Turkington.  

It’s an honour to be a part of this historic moment to remember Ellen Melville and I’m so proud to create my first bronze work for Aucklanders. Justice commemorates Ellen’s achievements as a politician, women’s advocate and pioneer, the scales of justice referencing her legal career of 37 years.

The original Ellen Melville Hall was designed by Modernist architect Tibor Donner – it’s wonderful the building has returned to its former glory as the Ellen Melville Centre for the people of Auckland.

What do you feel public art brings to urban spaces like Freyberg Place?

Public artworks become destinations, places where history is made and lives are lived. Plus they provide backdrops for selfies!

I’ve always loved this part of the city, and know people are going to love spending time in Freyberg Place. It’s open, welcoming, a lovely spot for the sun and car-free which is great for everyone.

I really appreciate the design work John Reynolds has done and it was genius to ask kids what they wanted from public spaces. You can beauty in the shapes everywhere, from the stairs to the ‘stream’ tumbling down the hill.

Do you have a favourite piece of public art in Auckland?

I have great appreciation for the classical 60s work Karangahape Rocks created by Greer Twiss. Twiss taught me sculpture at Elam Art School and his work is a great period piece – as someone who has lived in the centre of Auckland, it feels like home.

This year you’re representing New Zealand at the world’s largest art fair, the Venice Biennale - how have you found this experience?

Absolutely amazing, it was such an honour to share Emissaries with the world, and with so many talented people who appear in it, worked on it, or helped to present it.

It’s taken many, many years to create, and is being viewed and appreciated by huge audiences. It’s important to me to show it to a home crowd first, but exciting that it’s now in Venice being viewed by about 1000 people a day. 

Make sure you check out Justice next time you’re in the city and find out more about the Auckland Council Public Art collection here

A note from Lisa on Justice: Special thanks to Mark Osborne, Auckland Council’s Arts & Culture Project Manager, for his professional support; Neil Lafforley the Pattern Maker, for sensitively translating my drawing; Phil Neary and Todd Butterworth of Monument Foundry for their superb casting work and Nigel Roberts, the Painter for the wall drawing. 

Lisa_Photo Credit James Pinker 3.jpg
Photo Credit: James Pinker