My Dunedin Itinerary


Painter Jenna Packer is as enamoured with history as she is with her paintbox.

Her dream-like paintings depict the metaphorical and alternate histories of New Zealand landscapes.

Packer’s finely detailed works may at first glance appear to capture straightforward historical depictions, scenes that could have been pulled from the pages of a dusty history book.

But on closer inspection strange and discombobulating features emerge, quite out of their time and place.

Anachronistic additions such Montgolfier balloons, zeppelins, and Chinese junks feature prominently.

The works are re-imagined versions of New Zealand's historical story,  and ask viewers to question the unseen forces which shape their day-to-day lives.

Small moments of intimacy are woven into the paintings, exposing both the minute of people's lives, and the large-scale forces driving an often turbulent social narrative.

“I am interested in painting what at first glance appears to be a traditionally painted, historical depictions,” says Packer.

“But on closer inspection present alternate social and colonial narratives. I use techniques drawn from both watercolour and fresco traditions, to achieve a certain luminosity, and to reference a type of historical genre painting, while subverting this reading through the actual details of the narrative.”

The central panel of the triptych on display in Shanghai - Trench View - was inspired by Packer’s close reading of historical accounts of the North Island and Waikato wars of the mid 1800s.

“I was fascinated to learn about the trench warfare, and the military tactics and defences developed by leaders Rawire Puhirake, Kawati and Rewi Maniapoto,” says Packer.

“I very much enjoy the idea that within the museum setting this work will be lent an authenticity as an historical document, on first reading at least."

"It is in the dissonance of what we consider true and familiar, especially regarding the visual records of history from a Pakeha paintbox, and an alternate version, that I think its possible to confront our preconceptions and assumptions, and pose new questions.”

After graduating from Ilam School of Art in 1988, Packer went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts in History at the University of Canterbury.

A lifelong learner, Packer has continued to study in various institutions around the world, including at the Glasgow Print Workshop in Scotland, the Slade School of Art in London and the Rouelle Studio in France.