Don Binney's Mana Island

Story by Peter Derksen

Museum and Heritage Studies, 2016

Mana Island, 1971

  • <p>Don Binney, <em>Mana Island, </em>1971, oil on canvas on board, on long term loan to the Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection from the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association</p>

The Teacher and The Students

When Victoria University opened for lectures in 1899, the first students were quick to organise themselves into the Victoria College Students’ Society (now VUWSA).

In the 1970s artist Don Binney spent time at Victoria as a visiting lecturer. His year-long residency at the university produced many incredible works, not the least of which was Mana Island.

This large painting is a great example of Binney's painting practice – where a real place is abstracted by the smooth application of paint into bands of colours.

Binney wasn’t the sole author of the work. Volunteer students chipped in, spontaneously and ad hoc, with what Binney described as “good will and good faith”.

Collaboration truly at its finest.

The Victoria University Students’ Association unanimously decided to purchase Mana Island and hung it in the stairwell of the Student Union Complex.

Bad idea – changing uses of the building meant that it was tucked away, unseen and slowly deteriorating. But following restoration, the work now proudly hangs outside the MacLaurin Lecture Theatre 103, bringing some serenity to the chaos of student life.

The Island

Binney’s interest in Mana Island was sparked when he lived at Bottle Creek in Titahi Bay, alongside other artists and writers such as Robin White, Sam Hunt and Michael King.

Here, Binney “discovered a passage into the landscape and the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with it”. But although he was always an environmentalist, Binney couldn’t have foreseen what Mana Island would become.

The island was originally occupied by Ngāti Toa, but has since functioned as a whaling station, an agricultural research facility, and most recently a scientific reserve.

This will be Mana Island’s legacy; a glowing testament to an artist’s passion for nature. Check out Mana Island’s programme for yourself and see the incredible conservation work currently happening.

No doubt Binney would have been delighted.

Mana Island

  • <p>An aerial view of Mana and Kapiti Islands. Image courtesy of Aidan Wotjas, 2009.</p>