'Clearances' focus of show

Artist Kit Macgregor at an exhibition of his work at the Forrester Art Gallery in Oamaru. Photo...
Artist Kit Macgregor at an exhibition of his work at the Forrester Art Gallery in Oamaru. Photo by Andrew Asthon.
More than 200 years after large swaths of the Scottish Highlands were left largely barren of humanity because of what has been described as ethnic cleansing, an Oamaru artist with links to Scotland hopes to draw attention to a long-lost way of life through a new art exhibition.

Dunedin-born artist Kit Macgregor said he did not know much about his Scottish ancestors, but added he did know ''a wee bit'' about the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, when many tenants were forcibly evicted from estates, the very name MacGregor being outlawed in Scotland until 1774.

A recent visit to the Highlands left him with an ''emotional response'' to the enforced mass evictions of people from their homes, he said.

''I was drawn to Scotland by my Scottish ancestry, which I have traced back to the Highlands and the stories they hold.''

He was struck by the emptiness, the absence of people and the sense of ''something missing'' in the Highlands, Macgregor said.

It was a ''strikingly beautiful place'', but that beauty had been ''impoverished'' by the removal of people, he said.

''I wanted these paintings to be dramatic, but reflect the emptiness I felt in knowing a whole culture had been swept aside and away. Every painting tells a story, even if it is just the approach of a storm.

''Three of the paintings are a direct response to what are today known as the Highland Clearances.''

The ''Black Water and Other Stories'' exhibition, which features 11 oil paintings, will remain on display at the Forrester Gallery's Basement Gallery until August 4.

Exhibition curator Alice Lake-Hammond said during the Clearances, ''wealthy landowners, supported by the [British] government, brutally evicted whole communities of people from the land, replacing them with sheep in order to generate more revenue.

They cleared not only the land, but the culture and the history - effectively destroying the clan system and its traditions.

''Kit's paintings respond beautifully to the Scottish landscape and its emptiness. Offering just enough insight for us to dip into the `black water' of the Highlands and imagine the stories of a culture gone.''

The exhibition would connect well with North Otago's own Scottish heritage, she said.

''Many of the early settlers to the North Otago region travelled to New Zealand from Scotland in search of a new and better life. The exhibition will resonate with a wide audience, for both the skill of the paintings and significance of their content.''

andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz

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