Friday, March 20, 2015


Jono Rotman's photographs of Mongrel Mob members have just opened as an exhibition at Wellington's City Gallery. Key images from exhibition were originally shown at the Gow Langsford Gallery in Auckland April/May last year. That exhibition was instantly controversial when it was revealed that one of the portraits was of Shane Harrison who at the time was charged with the murder of  25 year old Sio Matalasi.

In the 29 April NZ Herald story Art or insult” Accused killer in show Anna Leask reported that Matalasi’s family were “disgusted his alleged killer will be "immortalised" in a photo exhibition at an upmarket Auckland art gallery.” Gow Langsford Gallery director Gary Langsford told Leask that it was gallery policy ‘not to censor an artist's work’ “

The same day the Sensible Sentencing Trust's Ruth Money waded into the argument over mob photos being shown publicly in TVNZ’s Mongrel mob’s faces used in art.

TVNZ’s Te Karere programme also broadcast a short item on the Gow Langsford opening that has so far attracted 39465 hits on Youtube

Dr Paul Moon, Professor of History at Auckland University of Technology wrote a considered piece the same day Portraits fall back on shock value questioning Rotman’s use of Mongrel Mob members as subject matter. “His emphasis on the lurid 'Other' no doubt has an appeal for some viewers, but at the same time, the echoes with 19th century propaganda art which aimed at denigrating Maori are deafeningly loud.”

Blogger Arthur Meek is in awe of Rotman approaching the Mongrel Mob and on his blog takes Dr Paul Moon to task for dissing Goldie in his Rotman commentary in his 30 April post I’ll have my art like I have my porridge.

6 May TVNZ’s Seven Sharp reports in Mongrel Mob photographer refuses to give in to grieving father’s plea that photographer Jono Rotman refused a personal request by Matalasi’s father to remove the photograph of Shane Pierre Harrison, during a weekend meeting between the two men.

In his 9 May review A sharp emotional response NZH art critic T J McNamara compares Rotman’s work with Gottfried Lindauer, “Rotman's photographs are certainly not picturesque. They emphasis conscious brutality yet in the same way as Lindauer they bear witness. They are a record, done brilliantly and are totally memorable images.”

On 12 May in its item Rotman exhibition Auckland University student paper Craccum posed a few questions with John Mutambu and Emma Jameson concluding, "Rotman’s images represent a real facet of New Zealand society whether we, as viewers, choose to voyeurise or vilify it.”

24 September Shane Pierre Harrison and Dillin Pakai were found guilty of murdering Sio Matalasi. The story was reported on the Stuff website in Double guilty verdit in Mongrel Mob murder trial. "Two gang members have been found guilty of murder after a confrontation between rival factions turned deadly."

The Rotman exhibition opened at Wellington’s City Gallery on 13 March. The Dominion Post in its story Killer’s portrait to hang in victim’s hometown indicated confusion between the gallery and the Matalasi family as to whether Shane Harrison's portrait should be shown. “Gallery director Elizabeth Caldwell said Matalasi's family understood the project and were supportive of it. But his father, Iafeta, said this week that many family members were unhappy Harrison's portrait would hang in the gallery. It would be "ideal" if Harrison's portrait were removed from the exhibition, though he accepted that would not happen. “

In Photographer brings Mob portraits exhibition to Wellington Stuff’s Diana Decker talked to photographer Jono Rotman who defends his use of mob members as subject matter. "I understood the potential for difficulties to come about because of the history and public perception of these guys. That was always understood. The work is not about specifics, not about who did what or what happened. "

In its online introduction to the exhibition the City Gallery claims it is presenting Rotman’s Mongrel Mob Portraits to raise “questions why we consider certain types of people suitable to hang on a gallery wall in a formal portrait.”

Meanwhile a stream on NZ’s reddit are engaing in a long discussion (153 comments at this time) around the Rotman photographs including contributions from commentators claiming to be gang members.