Writen by Darcy Nicholas, key member of the Contemporary Maori Art Movement.


Maori are the native people of New Zealand. Our land is dramatic and diverse, with beautiful mountains, large forests and wide rivers that meander through fertile country to the sea. Our stories tell of the creation of this land, from the lava flow emerging out of the ocean to the birth of the mountains, rivers, trees and creatures. Our name for New Zealand is Aotearoa.

Maori oral history says we have been on the land from the beginning of time, but colonial history says we immigrated between 5oo and 1ooo years ago. Although there have been several waves of migration to our shores, colonial history often ignores the oral history that predates canoe migrations or describes our original ancestors as a different people.

Some of the first known peoples of Aotearoa were Kahui Maunga, Kahui Ao, Kahui Rere, Kahui Tu, Taitawaro, Ruaramore, Pananehu, Moriori,'W'aitaha, Kati Mamoe and Maru lwi tribes whose genealogies were linked to the mountains, rivers and land formations. They married into the successive migrations of Pacific people who arrived in canoes over a period of several hundred years. The first people of Aotearoa were known by the original names that described their uniquely different histories, but today their descendants are collectively known as "Maori."

Our ancestors were sea voyagers who traveled across the oceans in double-hulled canoes. They navigated by the stars, the flight of migrating birds, seasonal winds, ocean currents and the flowing patterns of waves. They developed a deep knowledge of the sea that enabled them to travel safely from island to island and across vast stretches of water. Our history and our culture evolved from the experiences of their journey through life.

The Maori were fierce fighting warriors, and intertribal wars, which were often prompted by revenge for some misdeed, were vicious. The defeated enemy was often subjected to slavery and acts of cannibalism.


Both the Dutch and the Spanish visited our country before the British. It was not until the 1800s that the first British colonists arrived in large numbers. The early settlers were interested only in exploiting the rich land and sea resources, which included gold, timber, large stretches of land suitable for farming and abundant stocks that fed the whaling and sealing industries.

First they belittled our language, and then retold our history. The Europeans superimposed their own names on our sacred sites, sent in waves of missionaries to teach new religions, undermined our social structures, introduced diseases and new, more powerful weapons.

In time our oral history was ignored, and generations of Maori were subjected to the written colonial history that is taught as part of our education system. Many Maori are now convinced they are foreigners in their own ancestral lands, and they preach these revised migration theories to our people.

In I840, Maori and the British signed the Treaty of Waitangi, giving British subjects the right to form a government on the understanding that Maori retained their chiefly status over their own lands. At that stage our fierce fighting ancestors outnumbered the immigrants. In 1843 the daughter of a well-known paramount chief was killed during a conflict between British and Maori forces. That incident escalated into the New Zealand Land Wars that lasted until 1872, although some argue that they continued until the famous battle at Parihaka pa, in Taranaki province in 1881.

At Parihaka pa (Pa means “fortified village”), Maori tribes used passive resistance for the first time to fight the onslaught of armed colonial troops. In this battle, many Maori were imprisoned solely because they were unwilling to allow their ancestral lands to be purchased or confiscated. As they resisted, their farming stock was ruined, their women taken and their houses destroyed.

Despite the many conflicts between Maori and the British, there was a mutual expectation and understanding that one day we would have to learn to live together. Following the land wars, peace was restored. Although there was considerable intermarriage-today most Maori carry the ancestral blood of the English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh and French settlers – most of the land that legally belonged to Maori was either confiscated as the colonial government grew in power or sold off illegally by unscrupulous Maori and Settlers. The loss of ancestral land has had a devastating effect, because land is the foundation of Maori identity.


During the 1950s, Maori families were often large and lived in relatively loose-knit sub-tribes. In my family there were twelve children, and my mother and elder sisters and brothers “looked after" several others. My father's father married twice and had twenty-five children with his two wives.

Tribal gatherings were often held to discuss major issues or matters of concern brought up by elders or other influential members of the tribe. My generation was raised in an environment in which many of our elders spoke only the Maori language, and the stories they told us were part of the oral histories their elders had told them. The young ensured the elders were cared for, and in turn were given stories that could be carried forward to the following generations.

Living in rural areas meant my generation formed a close relationship with the natural world. We fished and gathered our food from the rivers, the sea and the land. Our traditional food supplies were abundant and the environment was unpolluted. The Maori system of passing knowledge from one generation to another by oral language, and teaching by demonstration and personal coaching, had sustained the survival of our people for centuries. It meant everyone had an important role in the tribe, and People were respected and listened to because of their Particular area of expertise.

Major changes occurred shortly after the Second world War. Many more Britons emigrated to New Zealand, strengthening the influence of British and world cultures on the New Zealand public and, subsequently, on the Maori people and their artists. Already the emerging giant of American culture had been experienced during the Second World War, when the United States responded to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's strong request to protect New Zealand from Japanese invasion. Tens of thousands of American soldiers were based in New

Zealand during that time, and they left behind a culture of American music, dance and fast food.

When the New Zealand troops returned home after the Second World War, they brought with them stories of different cultures, great works of art and another way of looking at the world. However, they also carried the burden and sadness of leaving behind large numbers of comrades who had died on the battlefields and been buried in foreign countries. These were powerful emotional times when society was changing, and these influences were felt strongly in New Zealand. Maori, like the rest of the world, moved into a massive phase of cultural evolution that lasted from 1945 into the 1950s and beyond.

In 1952, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England and won the hearts of older and newer generations of New Zealanders. Britain was affectionately referred to as "the home country". At the same time, the memories of the thousands of American soldiers made their mark, and when rock ‘n’ roll stormed through the United States it simultaneously swept New Zealand. When Bill Haley, Elvis Presley and later the Beatles became international stars, they also became stars in New Zealand.

In New Zealand, the latter part of the 1950s brought major migrations of young Maori men and women into the cities. Although that generation retained its tribal links, the children of these Maori, born into urbanization, had fewer ties to their tribal ancestors. Television, movies, radio, records and picture magazines bombarded our country with new and exciting images, and both urban and rural Maori were drawn away from tribal life. By the late 1960s, the Maori exodus to the cities had reached huge proportions and changes to the environment made traditional practices of gathering food from nature difficult. There had been a great increase in the number of factories, and chemical pollutants had been released into the sea. Dragnet fishing, in which trawlers tow huge nets that scoop up everything in their path, had destroyed large parts of the ocean floor and made it into a desert. In addition, commercial fishing had stripped coastal waters of the seafood previously available to families to sustain their day-to-day lives. These days, Maori have to purchase most of their seafood from supermarkets and other commercial outlets.


The very early Maori artists laid the foundation from which Maori art evolved and Maori culture is reflected. They were known mainly by their tribal affiliation rather than as individuals, and the tribal styles of carving and weaving they created have been handed down to succeeding generations. Ritual and cultural Practices were preserved through rigid disciplines that forbade any variation or deviation, meaning that the "craft" and the "ritual" of Maori culture were part of a carefully planned system of passing skills and knowledge to specifically talented individuals only. This custom guaranteed that tribal practices and stories and the unique development of tribal differences in the art forms were retained. We record our history and culture through carving, weaving, facial and body tattooing, traditional ritual, song and dance, the movements and the words repeated over and over again as rhythmic incantations until they form part of our soul. In this way, each hill, mountain and river and every other single feature of the land has its own story and is included in the oral history of our people.

As the environment, the tools and the needs of the people changed, variations on an old style began to evolve. The first major shifts had come with the introduction of metal chisels, as early as the late 1700s and possibly earlier. With these tools, artists were able to carve sharper and deeper lines, and they began to depict colonial images. Although there were several shifts in Maori art during the 1800s, the largest changes occurred after the Second World War. The influence of other cultures presented Maori with a new way of seeing the world. The use of new tools, materials and techniques and concepts meant that endless possibilities of artistic expression were emerging. The young Maori artists in the 1950s were sculptors, painters, printmakers and mixed-media artists.

Among those who played a major part in the formation of the contemporary arts movement were Sandy Adsett, Clive Arlidge, John Bevan Ford, Fred Graham, Ralph Hotere, Para Matchitt, Muru Walters, Cliff Whiting, Arnold Wilson and Selwyn Wilson. Some of the women were Cath Brown, Freda Kawharu, Katerina Mataira and writer and designer Amy Brown. They broke down the walls of tradition, questioned their elders and debated world art issues and techniques. At the same time, they were part of a dynamic drive by the visionary art educator Gordon Tovey, who set out to discover or invent the elusive "New

Zealand art." Together with non-Maori artists, they were liberating our country from the conservative “British Academy" style of art they had inherited with colonization. They developed the new art forms upon which generations of New Zealand and Maori artists would build.

By the 1960s, contemporary Maori artists had formed small individual groups exhibiting in joint shows around the country. One of the emerging young giants in the 1960s was Selwyn Murupaenga (known as Selwyn Muru), a painter, sculptor, poet, broadcaster and playwright. Muru is an expert in Maori language, ritual, oratory and history. He created a completely individual approach that showed the land as a living ancestor. In the minds of many Maori he gave the land song, history and ancestral voice, and his Maori view of the land gave non-Maori artists insight into another spirituality. The land he painted was

"Maori land”. Muru's ‘Parihaka’ series was arguably the most important group of paintings completed by a New Zealand artist. The Parihaka “incident" as painted by Muru shows both the fight for, and the birth of, a nation. Muru also wrote plays and poetry and directed several important documentaries and stories for television.

Working in television and film at the same time as Muru were rising stars Barry Barclay, Merita Mita and Lee Tamahori, who played a major role in the developing Maori film industry and went on to become filmmakers in the international arena. Tamahori directed the Maori film ‘Once Were Warriors’ and since then several Hollywood movies, including the James Bond adventure ‘Die Another Day’.

Muru's close friend Buck Nin also emerged as an important Maori sculptor and painter. Nin completed his doctorate in the United States and was renowned for his entrepreneurial skills. A larger-than-life intellectual artist, Nin, like Muru, was a visionary. For many years he had dreamed of a Maori art school and university, and with his close and equally visionary friend Dr. Rongo 'Wetere created Te Wananga o Aotearoa, the University of

New Zealand, a Maori university that now caters to more than 50,000 students. Today the wananga (place of learning) is an important contributor to the ongoing development of Maori art, and it also offers courses to the wider community of new immigrants, New Zealanders and overseas students.

Nin completed several large-scale paintings, which expressed the history and importance of land as an integral part of Maori identity. He was an immaculate draftsman, but in later life suffered ill health and often planned and created his work with the assistance of working under his guidance. Sadly, he passed away in 1996 at the young age of 54 years. Maoridom lost one of its great artists.

In the latter part of the 1950s and into the 1960s, Sandy Adsett, John HovelI, Para Matchitt, Cliff Whiting and Arnold Wilson were some of the first contemporary artists to introduce new styles in the art of the ancestral houses. This group created an "assemblage" style that incorporated carving, weaving and a wide range of media from bone to steel and glass. Matchitt, Whiting and Wilson, in particular, completed important murals and works of art throughout the country. Although these three also initiated major developments to the kowhaiwhai (rafter patterns) on ancestral houses, it was Sandy Adsett and John Hovell who painted them on to pieces of board and canvas for display as paintings in public galleries.

Generations of artists followed them. Adsett's designs were also transformed into high-fashion garments initiated by WhetuTirikatene, who later became influential in the formation of the Maori and South Pacific Arts Council (MASPAC) when she was a cabinet member in New Zealand's Parliament.

In the 1960s, urban Maori gangs such as Black Power , the Mongrel Mob and the Nomads copied the American gang movements, particularly with regard to skin self-embellishment. Although many of the gangs treated the prison gang tattoo as a serious art form, it was several years before ‘Ta Moko’, the traditional form of Maori body art, was revived. Some of its early exponents included Te Aturangi Clamp, Rangi Kipa, Mark Kopua, Derek Lardelli, Riki Manuel and Laurie Nicholas.

By the mid-1960s, educators like Frank Davis were writing the history of contemporary Maori art as part of the school curriculum. Davis, a New Zealand artist, a speaker of the Maori language and husband of Waana Davis, the current chairperson of the Maori Arts organization ‘Toi Maori Aotearoa, wrote the stories of young unknown artists like myself, Ross Hemera, Robert Jahnke, Albert McCarthy and John Walsh into the annals of Maori and NewZealald Art. At a time when the Maori art movement was ignored by the art gallery establishment, Davis was our champion. He was a ‘pakeha’ (white person), but he respected Maori. He told of visiting a school and asking in the Maori language who spoke Maori. Not one student answered. He was very concerned that he had embarrassed the Maori students and vowed never to use the Maori language again. I was with Frank when he suddenly fell ill. Weeks later, Davis, one of New Zealand's great people and a dear friend, passed away.

As a result of Davis’s efforts, we became the next generation of contemporary Maori artists. Robert Jahnke introduced a new sophistication to the contemporary Maori art scene with skills in animation, design and the use of new technology. Both he and Ross Hemera played an important Part as teachers and educators in fostering and developing the next generation of Contemporary Maori artists. Contemporary sculptor Matt Pine, who returned to New Zealand from Britain around this time, introduced a more conceptual and minimalist approach to Maori sculpture. He continues today with his uniquely individual style, which is slowly gaining momentum among emerging younger Maori artists.


A collective called the New Zealand Maori Artists and Writers Society was formed in the 1960s to consolidate the talent, networks and knowledge that were loosely held by Maori artists around the country. Georgina Kirby, who would later become Dame Georgina for her services to Maori, and the educator, writer, artist and broadcaster Haare Williams were two prominent driving forces behind this movement. Although the group was officially incorporated as a society, it became a collective because many of the artists did not pay their annual fees. From time to time they pledged membership, but they also wished to remain autonomous; that is, many of them did not want to belong to an organized group, but at the same time they cherished being able to brainstorm ideas and techniques with equally dynamic artists.

These were happy and exciting times during which we were surrounded by strong personalities and creative minds. The broadcaster and Ngati Porou scholar Wiremu Parker, Maori Queen Te Atairangikaahu and the renowned weaver Dame Rangimarie Hetet provided strong support for Maori artists and writers with their presence. Several other tribal elders backed the society and attended annual conferences to join the discussions and debates that were a hallmark of the gatherings. The artists assembled each year on different tribal lands, where they held art workshops and exchanged stories and ideas.

The Maori Artists and Writers Society later became known as Nga Puna Waihanga. It included painters, sculptors, weavers, poets, writers, actors, singers, dancers, filmmakers and experts in language, ritual and tradition. The intention was to create a forum for artists of Maori heritage to meet annually, learn tribal history and new techniques, and plan other major events that would profile Maori art to our people. These meetings became the catalyst for major exhibitions of contemporary Maori art to be shown in New Zealand galleries.

Some of the great Maori writers to emerge from the association were Patricia Grace, whose books are published in several countries; Keri Hulme, who won the Booker prize with her novel ‘The Bone People’; Witi Ihimaera, who wrote several novels, including Whale Rider; celebrated poet Hone Tuwhare and writers Arapera Blank, Rowley Habib, Keri Kaa, Katerina Mataira, Dun Mihaka, Meremere Penfold, Bruce Stewart, Apirana Taylor and several others.

Within the association there were often arguments, factions and disagreements) some of which lasted for years. Some of the artists were very knowledgeable in Maori tradition and culture whereas others were still searching for their Maori identity. Tribal, gender, individual and age differences also caused conflict. It was a dynamic art scene that made us grow stronger. Unfortunately, this movement lost its impetus as it was taken over by Maori artists who were schoolteachers and academics and the annual artist meetings became unofficial holiday camps for Maori and non-Maori university and polytechnic students.

I recall walking into a classroom around that time to give an art lesson to a group of young Maori artists. Finding no brown Person in the room, I quietly walked out again, without giving the lesson. At that time in our lives we were so focused on developing the Maori art movement that we began to resent the number of non-Maori who were attending the annual conference. The senior artists who gave the association its history and knowledge eventually stopped attending, and the Maori Artists and Writers Society ceased to exist.

For the Maori artists, the line between music, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, traditional incantations and all the other forms of expression was indefinable. Many of the artists specialized in all these fields, so it was no accident that the success of Maori actors, filmmakers and musicians inspired poets, painters and sculptors. In music, significant Maori show bands had developed, and they excelled in the New Zealand, Australian, Asian and American music scenes. Some of the great individual stars who emerged from the music scene of the 1960s were Sir Howard Morrison and the celebrated international opera stars Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Inia Te Wiata. They were followed later by popular singers like Rhonda Bryers, John Rowles and Frankie Stevens. As these individual entertainers expanded the boundaries of achievement, new artists were coming onto the scene. Many commentators at the time described this period as the Maori Renaissance, a time when we extended ourselves beyond our traditions and moulded them with the cultures of the world.

In 1963, the New Zealand government established the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, a funding agency designed to support the cultural sector. Two Maori Members of Parliament, Whetu Tirikatene-Sullivan and Koro Wetere, and the Maori Artists and Writers Society played a significant part in creating the Maori and South Pacific Arts Council in 1978, a sub-agency specifically dedicated to bolstering Maori art by funding programs for Maori artists and providing policy advice to government. Among the key artist representatives on the council were Witi Ihimaera, Dame Georgina Kirby and Haare Williams.

The late Sir Kingi Ihaka, himself an expert in Maori life, language and culture, chaired the first MASPAC board of governors. Although artists initially saw him as being very conservative, he became more outgoing, sharp humoured and creatively challenging during his tenure and close interaction with the contemporary artists. His first executive officer was Rangi Nicholson, who was succeeded by Piri Sciascia. In a gesture of biculturalism, this position was later upgraded to assistant director of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council. MASPAC went through a number of changes. First it became the Maori Arts Council under the leadership of Kuru Waaka when it separated from the South Pacific Arts component. Under this structure it had both a policy and operational role, with a number of its own committees specializing in both traditional and contemporary Maori art forms. When the government decided to strengthen the policy roles of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Councii in 1994, it was renamed the Arts Council of New Zealand, (also known as Creative New Zealand). The new Maori part, Te Waka Toi, replaced the Maori Arts council at the same time and its operations department was separated from the Arts Council. Known as Toi Maori Aotearoa, this organization maintains and governs a wide range of Maori art disciplines involving traditional and contemporary artists.

The first head of Toi Maori was Eric Tamepo, who was succeeded by Garry Nicholas, the current chief executive. Once a small office providing services to various committees of arts disciplines, Toi Maori has flourished to become an organized body that reaches out tribally, nationally and internationally to develop and promote the wide range of Maori Creative and traditional arts.


By the 1970s' the young adults who had drifted to the cities in the 1950s had given birth to another generation of Maori born and raised in the city and therefore separated from their tribal roots. Unemployment in New Zealand had greatly escalated by this time, and the government implemented a range of employment programs, based on similar ones offered in the pre-war United States.

Despite the economic pressures, new Maori arts groups formed as part of the government employment programs at the Wellington Arts Centre. (The centre was the first of the art employment programs established by the government in 1980). Contemporary theatre companies such as Te Ohu Whakaari and a Pacific Island group, Taotahi, were established under the artistic direction of Colin McColl; Maori actor Rangimoana Taylor later became artistic director of Te Ohu Whakaari. The new works these groups presented were more about contemporary living than direct expressions of Maori or Pacific Island art or culture. An African-Maori dance company called ‘Merupa Maori’ was founded under the musical and dance direction of Kincho Katshablala, a former cast member of the famous South African musical ‘lpi Tombi’, and Rangitihi Tahuparae, an expert on Maori language, ritual, history and weaponry. Tahuparae had also helped form Te Ohu Whakaari, which successfully staged its first p|ay, ‘The Gospel According to Tane’, written by Selwyn Murupaenga, and initiated, among many other things, the Whanaki rangataua (emerging warriors) group. This powerful body of highly skilled Maori Warriors used traditional and contemporary weaponry and methods of fighting. He also trained very selecr gfoups of young people in Maori ritual, language and traditional dance.

The Maori language and other educational and developmental programs progressed under the visionary leadership of Ihakara Puketapu, the secretary of the government's Department of Maori Affairs. He had previously worked in New Mexico, and from the 1960s onward he instituted several cultural and business exchanges with the Navajo and Hopi Nations of the American Southwest as part of a focus on small industries involving crafts.

Puketapu also set up Te Kohanga Reo Maori, immersion language programs for preschoolers. Hundreds of small tribal and urban language "nests" throughout the country have increased the number of native speakers. However, as the Maori language is adjusted to fit into ”English-language format", its poetic nature is changed - a shift that may be unavoidable as we become part of the competitive global economy and the language loses its day-to-day use.

Maori language flourished on the radio under Huirangi Waikerepuru and Professor Whatarangi Winiata, who in 1982 helped form the first Maori radio station, Te Upoko o te Ika (Head of the Fish). Today there are more than twenty-five Maori radio stations around the country as well as a Maori television station, which celebrated its first anniversary in April 2004. Puketapu was also responsible for kokiri centres, training facilities that promote language and culture.


In 1984, a major exhibition of traditional Maori carving opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York city, later traveling to Chicago and San Francisco.The exhibition ‘Te Maori’ received rave reviews in the United States and acted as a catalyst for New Zealand to review its attitude towards Maori art and culture. Until ‘Te Maori’, New Zealand art galleries had labeled Maori art as "Marae decoration” - Marae are traditional Maori gathering places.

That year I won a Fulbright Award and traveled throughout the United States meeting Native American and African-American artists. Katherine Rust of New Mexico introduced me to a network of Native American artists, including Harry Fonseca, Allan Houser, Dan Namingha, Lillian Pitt, Juane Quick-to-See Smith, and several others, many of whom later traveled to New Zealand to meet and work with Maori artists. We immediately felt a bond with Native Americans.

The reaction to "Te Maori" gave Maori artists a new confidence at the same time that it transformed the attitude of the museums and art galleries in New Zealand. Maori artifacts were now displayed as works of art rather than as building decorations. Bicultural programs were developed, and major museums took greater pride in their collections of Maori art.

The main organizers behind "Te Maori" were Ihakara Puketapu, Professor Hirini Moko Mead and Piri Sciascia, the administrative executive who oversaw the project.

Professor Mead was not always popular with Contemporary Maori artists. Intellectually sharp and highly knowledgeable in Maori history and culture, he kept the senior artists on their toes and was often misunderstood. He was seen by some of the more senior contemporary artists as a formidable foe rather than an educator and ally and, like Sir Kingi lhaka, was considered to be highly conservative. However, from my observations both Sir Kingi and Professor Mead helped give substance to the contemporary art movement by continually questioning it.

One of the key issues facing Maori then and still today, as we change and become global, is what "Maoriness" we hold on to and take into the future. Each step we take in a different direction is another step away from who our parents and ancestors were. That step into the future will eventually define the next generation of Maori.

The contemporary Maori Arts Trust had formed in 1980. Comprised of men who had emerged as artists in the 1950s and 1960s, the trust was designed to act as a catalyst to allow elite groups of artists to discuss oral history and knowledge, debate important concepts of traditional and contemporary Maori art, and support important art exhibitions. This was a time of considerable upheaval for Maori, when there was high unemployment.

Maori had experienced more than twenty-five years of urban drift, and a generation of Maori elders was passing on.

When a respected master carver challenged the Arts Trust for being arrogant, he pointed to me because I was the youngest of the group at the time. Arnold Wilson, the elder of our group, kept calling out to me to "get him". The master carver wasn't sure whether it was to be a physical or verbal rebuttal. (ln retrospect, I realize that criticizing the youngest was a probe to test the strength of the group: getting me to answer was a deliberate show of strength).

When the master carver finished his rebuke, he sat down and looked sternly at me.

I looked at the beautiful carvings in the house and they gave me my answer: it was as if they wanted to play the game as well. I replied reluctantly to the master carver "If you call us arrogant then we must be, because you are the expert in arrogance. What is more arrogant than the master carver who waiks into the forest of Tane, cuts down his eldest child and carves it in his own image?" This reference to Tane Mahuta, God of the Forest, was followed by laughter throughout the group and big smiles from the master carver. Then one of the senior artists commented: "If we don't provide the pathway for our future artists too, then the bloody academics will do it for us". In many cases, unfortunately, this is what has happened.

A major exhibition of Maori art entitled "Maori Art of the 1980s" was launched at Pipitea Marae in Wellington in 1980, and with it a festival that showcased the work of contemporary Maori artists on a grand scale for the first time ever in New Zealand's capital city. Sponsored by the Department of Maori Affairs, these events featured sculptors, painters, weavers, poets, writers, dancers and artists working in a range of media. The major forces behind this project were Colin Knox and writer Bruce Stewart; my job was to put the exhibition together. The only way to obtain the pieces was to hire a big truck, go to the artists' studios and just take the work from them. Several pieces were arriving at the last minute, and we still had to build an entire gallery out of timber and cardboard. Myself, Buck Nin, our Greek designer Tolas Papalazou and some helpers worked all day and all night. We installed the final piece just as the doors opened and Maori Queen Te Atairangikaahu walked in at dawn to inaugurate the exhibition. The artworks looked magnificent and, during the week we were open, drew 2,000 people a day into the makeshift gallery.

In the wake of "Te Maori" there were a number of exhibitions of contemporary Maori art. Once ‘Te Maori’ returned to New Zealand, it toured throughout the country and was accompanied by "Maori Art Today", curated by the Wellington Arts Centre Trust in partnership with the Maori and South Pacific Arts Council. Both organizations also combined to curate ‘Seven Maori Artists’, which toured Australia in 1985, and ‘Maori Artists in Africa’ which toured in 1987. The Maori Arts Council curated and toured the exhibition. ‘Te Waka Toi: contemporary Maori Art’ in the United States from 1992 to 1994.

Thanks to these exhibitions, by the late 1980s Sandy A dsett, Fred Graham, Ralph Hotere, Paratene Matchitt, Selwyn Muru, Buck Nin and Cliff Whiting had all emerged as important New Zealand artists.


Male artists dominated the contemporary Maori art movement despite the fact that the international women's liberation movement was well established. Until the 1980s the visual art of Maori women was dominated by traditional weaving. Weavers such as Dame Rangimarie Hetet, her daughter Diggeress Te Kanawa, Te Aue Davis, Erenora Puketapu Hetet, Puti Rare, Emily Schuster and many others were creating new contemporary pieces by drawing on traditional knowledge. In 1983, the Aotearoa Moananui a Kiwa weavers was formed, a combination of Maori and Pacific Island weavers who met each year.

Changes in the arts structures in New Zealand saw them re-establish themselves in 1994 as Te Roopu Rarangawhatu o Aotearoa. Today, many of them are part of the Toi Maori Eternal Thread exhibition touring the United States in 2005 and 2006. This is the first major exhibition of Maori weaving to tour internationally, and it was curated by the Pataka Museum of Arts and Culture in Porirua City in New Zealand, in partnership with Toi Maori Aotearoa.

During the later 1970s and early 1980s, government-sponsored employment programs had sprung up. The Wellington Women's Gallery developed and grew in profile and membership to the extent that its impact was felt throughout the country. At the same time, small groups of contemporary female Maori artists were emerging. Many of the important members of this movement had anglicized names; it was a time when urban Maori were rediscovering their identities, and many Maori born outside the culture were discovering or adopting Maori names. A lot of these women's work was based on searching for identity, myths and legends, reconciling male and female issues, and grappling with some academic ideas on being Maori.

The Maori women's art movement was mainly Wellington inspired. It adopted the name ‘Haeata’ and was a strong and focused group under the driving force of educator and expert in Maori culture Keri Kaa. The women challenged a wide range of Maori issues and wrote their own female "herstory" instead of accepting male-biased "history." At times they were perceived as anti-male and anti-colonial as some of the individuals struggled with their own identities in the early stages of the group's development. Most of the leading male artists preferred to keep away from the women's group and in many cases were guilty of male chauvinism that is not unusual among Maori men. Eventually the contemporary Maori male and female artists formed a peaceful space between them and worked alongside each other to create a series of major touring exhibitions throughout the country.

Prominent among the emerging female Maori visual artists were Shona Davies, a dynamic and creative painter and sculptor (later known as Shona Rapira Davies), and the passionate expressionist and colour painter Emily Pace, who has now adopted her family name and is known as Emily Karaka. Also part of this movement were the minimalist abstract painter Susie Roiri and the poet and creative installation artist Janet Garfield, who later adopted her family name, Roma Potiki. Emerging around the same time were the painter Kura Thorsen (now known as Kura Te Waru Rewiri) and the creatively intelligent painter and installation artist Diane Prince. Australian-born Robyn Porter (now known as Robyn Kahukiwa) embraced her newly found Maori culture by illustrating books and myths and legends under the guidance and encouragement of the Maori women's movement. These artists held several exhibitions of women's art, promoted female writers, organized artists' workshops and encouraged younger artists. It was not easy for them. Along with the female writers, poets, filmmakers and actors, they became an important part of the development of the contemporary Maori art movement.

Individual artists such as June Northcroft Grant, Hariata Ropata Tongahoe and later Gabrielle Belz appeared from outside the group, but each created powerful paintings and prints that were distinct in style and remain so today. Rising young painters like Star Gossage, Huhana Smith, Saffronn Te Ratana and many others are following them.


In the 1980s, a number of Maori artists began working in clay and expanding the scope of their art. Although some artists who were teachers in the New Zealand Department of Education in the 1960s had explored clay art, the movement began to develop its greatest momentum under Manos Nathan, Hiraina Poulson, Paparangi Reid, Baye Riddell, Wi Taepa and Colleen Waata Urlich.

Nathan, Poulson and Reid introduced their clay art to the New Zealand Crafts Council at a meeting in the mid-1980s. Present were the director and the crafts advisory officer for the Arts Council and myself as director of the Central Regional Arts Council. The pieces were raw and exciting, but they did not conform to the highly developed British and Japanese-influenced pottery style that had evolved in New Zealand. The work failed to excite the crafts adviser - but I knew when I saw the pieces that this was a significant development in the history of Maori art.

Nathan, Riddell, Taepa and Urlich, as exponents and teachers, were the major influences on this Powerful new form of Maori art. Nathan and Riddell were recipients of a Fulbright Award that allowed them to spend several months working with clay artists in New Mexico.

Nathan, Riddell, Taepa and Urlich continue to develop their careers on the international art scene with exhibitions in Australia, the United States, Canada, Britain, Asia and Greece. Their work is featured in several publications on Maori and New Zealand art.

Equally important was the clay art of Shona Rapira Davies, now established as a leading New Zealand and Maori artist. She created large-scale public clay installations and sculptures that endure today as major works of New Zealand art.

Paerau Corneal was the next significant artist to join the main group. Young artists now emerging include Davina Duke, Carla Ruka and Cameron Webster, who have a sensitivity of touch that is of their own generation. Other clay artists are coming from the Toihoukura Maori art school based in Gisborne.


In the 1980s, a number of Maori artists began working in clay and expanding the scope of their art. Although some artists who were teachers in the New Zealand Department of Education in the 1960s had explored clay art, the movement began to develop its greatest momentum under Manos Nathan, Hiraina Poulson, Paparangi Reid, Baye Riddell, Wi Taepa and Colleen Waata Urlich.

Nathan, Poulson and Reid introduced their clay art to the New Zealand Crafts Council at a meeting in the mid-1980s. Present were the director and the crafts advisory officer for the Arts Council and myself as director of the Central Regional Arts Council. The pieces were raw and exciting, but they did not conform to the highly developed British and Japanese-influenced pottery style that had evolved in New Zealand. The work failed to excite the crafts adviser - but I knew when I saw the pieces that this was a significant development in the history of Maori art.

Nathan, Riddell, Taepa and Urlich, as exponents and teachers, were the major influences on this Powerful new form of Maori art. Nathan and Riddell were recipients of a Fulbright Award that allowed them to spend several months working with clay artists in New Mexico.

Nathan, Riddell, Taepa and Urlich continue to develop their careers on the international art scene with exhibitions in Australia, the United States, Canada, Britain, Asia and Greece. Their work is featured in several publications on Maori and New Zealand art.

Equally important was the clay art of Shona Rapira Davies, now established as a leading New Zealand and Maori artist. She created large-scale public clay installations and sculptures that endure today as major works of New Zealand art.

Paerau Corneal was the next significant artist to join the main group. Young artists now emerging include Davina Duke, Carla Ruka and Cameron Webster, who have a sensitivity of touch that is of their own generation. Other clay artists are coming from the Toihoukura Maori art school based in Gisborne.

Atsuo Okamoto, the Japanese sculptor, sat on the hill overlooking the sculptors for three days, sketching and making mathematical calculations. By then the Africans were confused by him and the Maori bemused.
In 1990, Sir Peter Elworthy, a prominent New Zealander and farmer and his wife, Lady Fiona of Timaru, worked with John Tahuparae and me to put together a sculpture symposium on their farm estate, Craigmore, in south Canterbury province. This conference included several Maori and African sculptors and a Japanese sculptor, and we learned much from each other's distinct approaches to sculpting stone. There was also much joviality, deep discussion and understanding of each other's cultures. The African artists - Matamera, Mukomberanwa, Ndandarika and Takawira - imaged the unknown spirit within the rock and drew it out instinctively, chip by chip. Where they caressed the stone, the Maori artists attacked it with gusto and power tools, roughly establishing the form, then sculpting the detail.

Word was that Okamoto was lazy. On day 4, he strode down from the hill with his plan. Much to the horror of the other sculptors, he mathematically smashed his stone, carved the pieces, then over the next week proceeded to glue them all together again. The result was an Okamoto masterpiece. He had hollowed the rock, placed river stones in the middle of it, glued it together and then carved the outer layers. Okamoto was sponsored by the Japanese government, and he later took Brett Graham to Japan as his assistant. Graham has since become one of New Zealand's foremost sculptors.

In 1982, the first of the contemporary Maori art schools, Tairawhiti Polytechnic, opened in Gisborne under the leadership of Sandy Adsett, Steve Gibbs and Derek Lardelli. These three became the driving force responsible for helping young Maori learn their traditional language, dance and music, as well as for developing the modern skills of painting, sculpture and weaving. Earlier, Ross Hemera and Robert Jahnke had taught a Maori art program at Waiariki Polytechnic in Rotorua. Later, Adsett left the team at Tairawhiti Polytechnic to found Toimairangi School of Maori Visuai Culture in Hastings, one of the many new Maori arts schools forming under Te Wananga o Aotearoa.

Other Maori art schools now include Wananga o Raukawa, whose main tutors are Kohai Grace and Diane Prince; the Wananga o Awanui a Rangi, with tutors Julie Kipa, Rangi Kipa, Wi Taepa, Christina Wirihana and Kura Te Waru Rewiri; Massey University under Professor Robert Jahnke, Shane Cotton and Rachel Rakena, and many Private schools whose teachers are leading Maori weavers, such as master weaver Erenora Puketapu Hetet and her husband, master carver Rangi Hetet.

Shane Cotton, Brett Graham, Michael Parekowhai, Lisa Reihana and Peter Robinson have been leading the third generation of important artists in the contemporary Maori art movement. Strongly intellectual and creative in their approach, they reflect the state of their generation of Maori. A "tidal wave" of young Maori artists is rapidly following in their tracks. They are the graphic designers, filmmakers, new technology artists, fashion

Designers, contemporary weavers, jewellers, performance artists, poets, writers, animators and business entrepreneurs.

MAORI CULTURE since colonization in the 1800s has become more a "way of life" than a bloodline. There are now an estimated 500,000 people of Maori ancestry, and to find a person who is not of mixed blood would be very rare. The continuing ownership and building of tribal houses and the ongoing Practices and teaching of Maori ritual, art, language and history maintain the strength of being Maori. What we look like, how we sound and what we think or define ourselves to be is something for future generations to decide.

"We look into the eyes of our ancestors and then we turn away."