Simon Kaan


NameSimon Kaan (he/him)
Country of BirthAotearoa
Place of ResidenceŌtepoti Dunedin
EthnicitiesChinese (Cantonese), Māori (Kāi Tahu), Pākehā
Dealer GallerySanderson Gallery
ArtformVisual arts
Decades Active1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s


Simon Kaan is a visual artist based in Ōtepoti Dunedin. He is well-known for his serene prints and paintings, which combine the hazy horizon lines of multiple views of land and seascapes within a single work. However, Kaan has a wide-ranging practice that also includes relational artworks focused on food and exchange, and he often collaborates with others to contribute to both the Asian arts and Ngāi Tahu artist communities in Aotearoa.

Kaan is a third-generation Cantonese New Zealander through his father, and his mother is Ngāi Tahu, Pākehā. His grandfather arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1890s, followed by his grandmother in the 1930s, and they ran a fruit shop in Port Chalmers. Kaan grew up in Sawyers Bay, where his family also had a market garden, before studying printmaking at the Otago Polytechnic School of Art, graduating in 1993.

Kaan draws on both his Chinese and Māori heritage in his work. Gallery director and curator Karl Chitham has written, “When I saw Kaan’s work for the first time in the late ‘90s, his compositions were fresh and seemed to beautifully articulate the aesthetic sensibilities of his mixed heritage.” Alongside Kim Lowe and Kathryn Tsui, Kaan was one of the organisers of a Chinese artists hui at Corban Estate Arts Centre in 2013. This was one of the events that fed into a now ongoing series of Asian Aotearoa Arts Hui. He is also a founding member of Paemanu: Ngāi Tahu Contemporary Visual Arts and was one of the curators of the collective’s exhibition of work by contemporary Ngāi Tahu artists, Paemanu: Tauraka Toi - A Landing Place, at Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 2022.

Food, and the social and cultural experiences that accompany it, are frequent themes in Kaan’s artworks. A work first presented at The Blue Oyster in 2010 called The Asian, seated visitors at a communal table in the gallery while Kaan Skyped in from a nearby Chinese restaurant. An iteration of this work, called In conversations with Bruce, was also presented at the opening night party for the Asian Aotearoa Arts Hui at Te Papa in 2018.

With Ron Bull (Ngāi Tahu) and other invited collaborators, Kaan creates artworks that explore indigenous foodways, working as the Kaihaukai Art Collective. The focus of Kaihaukai is “to capture, maintain, curate, and share” Ngāi Tahu “stories around mahika kai, traditional food gathering and preparation practices”. Their first presentation was in 2012 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and in 2020 their work was acquired by Te Papa for the museum’s art collection. Rather than a single physical artwork being collected, the acquisition is instead built around a commitment between the museum and Kaihaukai to work together to deliver a set of collaborations conceived by the collective. The first of these presentations took place in 2020 as part of the exhibition Tamatea: Legacies of Encounter. Bull and Kaan have described the feast they presented as “a narrative that participants consumed in four parts—Ko Te Tai Ao, Ahi Kaa, Disturbed Earth, and Vermin,” to draw attention to the “resulting legacy of their own encounter with Tamatea” (Dusky Sound).

In recent years, Kaan has contributed to various architectural projects in Dunedin and Christchurch in the role of a Māori advisor. A three-story work by Kaan adorns the Ebb Hotel in Ōtepoti, and in collaboration with fellow Ngāi Tahu artist Rachael Rakena, Kaan created Te Aika 2021, for Te Pae, the convention centre in Ōtautahi Christchurch.


Key works / presentations

2022 — Paemanu: Tauraka Toi - A Landing Place, Dunedin Public Art Gallery, Ōtepoti, group exhibition

2020 — Kaihaukai, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Pōneke, with Kaihaukai Art Collective

2013 — Te ho te whenua - The breath of the land, Corban Estate Arts Centre, Tāmaki Makaurau, with Kim Lowe

2012 — Kaihaukai, International Symposium on Electronic Arts, IAIA, Santa Fe, New Mexico

2010 — The Asian, Blue Oyster Project Space, Ōtepoti

2008 — The Maui Dynasty, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Whakatū

2008 — Learning from The Knee, Burringa Gallery, Melbourne

Key awards

2004 — Red Gate Gallery Residency, Beijing, supported by Creative New Zealand and the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Related entries

Last updated: 2 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


Flyer features a photo of piled up ephemera from past exhibitions.

Complementary Practices: 15 Years of Walking Backwards exhibition flyer, Black Barn Gallery, 2013

'Belonging Yet Not Belonging', North & South, June 2005

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'China odyssey', on arts 31, 2004

Simon Kaan flyer, Solander Gallery, 2017

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