Oamaru is very well known for its colonies of penguins and its intact Victorian streetscapes, but it is also becoming renowned for something bit more out of the ordinary, and that really plays up the Victorian heritage for something that can be more relevant to the modern day. That is the phenomenon of Steampunk, an art genre that has gone from strength to strength in our small town.
If you’re not familiar with Steampunk, prepare to be amazed! Steampunk is an art genre that incorporates technology that was available during the Victorian era — steam power in particular — and uses it to create futuristic devices and objects as a futurist of the late 19th century might have imagined it. If you can think of the works of Jules Verne, HG Wells, and others of that era, you have a good start at imagining the things that Steampunk artists dream up.
Oamaru organises numerous Steampunk events throughout the year, and there are a number of local citizens who regularly dress in Steampunk costume, often featuring Victorian-style clothing with brass goggles, steam-powered ray guns, and the like. One of the highlights of the year is the annual Steampunk Festival, usually taking place in October and November, when the streets of town are festooned with monumental art works of the Steampunk genre, including a modified steam locomotive that is now on permanent display in front of “Steampunk HQ” in the former Elevator Building.
In addition to greater-than-life size art works, Oamaru is also home to artists who create Steampunk artworks on a much smaller scale. An international award-winning artist in town creates incredible Steampunk jewellery, including multifunction rings for use in interstellar travel. And each June Oamaru holds a Steampunk Fashion Show that brings competitors from all over the world to display their wearable artworks, some of which simply have to be seen to be believed.
You might not expect to find such cutting-edge artworks in a small town in New Zealand, but that’s the incredible thing about Oamaru — it packs a tremendous amount in its rather small package!!