Francis McWhannell Writer and curator

On building bridges

An interview with Shannon Novak

The past few years have been busy ones for Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland-based artist Shannon Novak. He’s produced solo projects, like the multi-site Cultivate (2021) in Ngāmotu New Plymouth, and participated in group shows, such as Sympathetic Resonance (2019) at the Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū, Nelson, and Queer Algorithms (2020) at the Gus Fisher Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau. Francis McWhannell spoke to him about his latest show, Mānawatia Takatāpui/Defending Plurality (2021) at Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga.

Francis McWhannell: We first seriously connected at the time of your 2019 solo show Sub Rosa. Itstarted in the window space of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in Ngāmotu and spilled into a corridor and the toilets inside the Gallery. It was a deeply personal presentation, exploring your early sexual experiences.

Shannon Novak: I grew up in Ōakura, a village near Ngāmotu, in the 1980s and 1990s. I knew I was gay as early as I can remember; I just wasn’t sure what to call it. I was in the closet until I left Ngāmotu at the age of eighteen. My early years were very cloak and dagger, and I put myself in risky situations. I lost my virginity in a public toilet, I had a secret relationship with the leader of my church youth group, and I went alone to my school ball. Much of my youth predated the commercialised Internet, so I primarily explored connections to an LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and more) world through my imagination. I had no access to gay support organisations or media: no books, no movies, no porn. It was only with the introduction of the Internet that I began to connect with the local LGBTQI+ community and to feel less alone. I started a youth group called Bent with a friend who was bisexual. The only safe place we could meet was the local needle exchange. It was a small group, but it helped us to be our authentic selves. Despite the tough times, I treasure my youth in Ngāmotu and will always call it home. …


Continue reading in Art News New Zealand 41, no. 3 (spring/summer 2021): 92–97.

Francis McWhannell Writer and curator


Francis McWhannell (b. 1985, Aotearoa New Zealand) is a writer and curator based in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. He is curator of the Fletcher Trust Collection, a major private collection of Aotearoa art founded in 1962.