rangihīroa,  he āmionga kikorangi, ‘the blue orbit’, 2018


E ngā kaipānui tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā ra koutou katoa. Ngā whakawhetai ki a koutou mo te awhi me te tautoko hoki. Hari te ngakau nei e hoko ana koutou ki tā tātou pukapuka. Naaku te rourou, nau te rourou, ka kī te kete.

The following text comprises notes used to prepare for a presentation of ‘Writing Māori Art’ at the City Gallery, Wellington, 25 August 2016. They explore the background to the creation of MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, Batemans, 2015. Some key themes and motivations for the work are discussed. ‘Writing Maori Art’ has been edited for this particular platform however, it largely follows the question/response format used in the original kōrero. I am offering this as koha to recognise the hundreds on the publisher’s facebook site that have supported this project and the many who have been visiting this companion site to peruse the MaC I-VII blogs. I hope the kaupapa is useful to those searching for authorial intent.



© Rangihīroa Panoho and PIHIRAU PRODUCTIONS Ltd, 2018. No part of this document (text or imagery) is free to be copied, plagiarised or shared for publication or for uses neither intended nor agreed on by the author without his or the Director of PIHIRAU Production's express permission. Details for writing to PIHIRAU are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com   The opinions expressed are mine and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.






It was difficult to know what to prepare here. I wondered who might be attending so I found myself asking questions throughout this kōrero.  I have largely kept that initial structure involving enquiry and response. This imagining ones audience and then writing to / for that readership or group is what I think writing a book is about. There were other influences as well. The panel members (Megan Tamati-Quennell, MONZ and Peter Brunt, VUW), that follow this talk, were also interested in hearing about the book’s central river metaphor so I have included some discussion on awa. If you are looking for a brief explanation of the river try this video link.

Lorraine Steele, (Lighthouse NZ PR Book Publicity) assigned by my publisher Batemans to help market ‘Maori Art’, told me prior to its initial launch in June 2015 at Te Uru that books, particularly art books in New Zealand, don’t sell themselves. No great revelation for those involved in publishing here tonight. You would immediately understand the role authorial self-promotion plays in marketing New Zealand books, films indeed all creative activity in Aotearoa. In Auckland, the situation seems grim. With a city of nearly 1.5 million people there is no major window for New Zealand books on Queen Street, or apart from Unity Books, in the central city. Our publicist suggested I take a few months out to travel meet, greet, sign and sell. She was particularly keen on areas of the country with community ties to the book. What sounded like grim advice then makes good business sense now.

So here is my delayed response, eventually following marketing advice. In returning here to Wellington I am re-visiting a site important early on in the creation, the conceptualising, the illustration and in the production of ‘Maori Art’. I lived locally. I taught up the road on Tasman Street at the local Design School. My original publishing contracts were sent here. My first manuscript was created in this town. It was here I began describing to alarmed, possibly bemused readers, I was writing a book on Māori Art that would be centered around the metaphor of a river. My first readers Mary Barr, Jayne Sayle, Garry Nicholas and Luit Bieringa were and still all are locals. I curated a major Māori and a Pacific show, for the Dowse Art Museum and for the City Gallery respectively, prior to living here and I am grateful to Robert Leonard and the City Gallery for letting me continue this legacy in not simply celebrating curating but also writing ‘Maori Art’ with you.




So why write a book on Māori Art? Indeed, why write any book? At risk of personal scrutiny I quote British novelist George Orwell’s essay ‘Why I Write‘  because his account of authorship and motivation provides a useful structure here to work with and against. Writing post world war II (summer 1946) Orwell lays down 4 drives: sheer egotism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose.  Some areas resonate more than others. I test a couple of these ideas.

Egotism: taking Orwell’s first motivation. On 11 August 1992 I was offered a contract with Nevill Drury, Publishing Manager, Craftsman House, Australia. Drury writes, ‘Delighted to enclose contracts…I feel this publication will be a very worthwhile addition to the literature on Pacific art. Your book will be distributed internationally, and I think could also attract offers of translation.’ Lofty possibilities indeed. From the point of view of a 28 year old, burnt out from curating a Pacific show and travelling a large Māori exhibition on tour to Australia for Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery, this Australian contract was a big deal.

Egotism? Orwell claims, ‘It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one.’ Perhaps initially there is the grand vision but the brutality of 22 sobering years deals to romantic visions: there have been contract losses, institutions neither believing, nor backing and, worse, stalling its publication, job loss, an employment court battle with a Vice Chancellor, reluctance by the ‘community of taste’ to accept my writing and so on. Many of the previous MaC blogs detail this history. The great nineteenth century pacifist Parihaka prophet Te Whiti o Rongomai in 1903 told an historian seeking answers on the land wars, William Baucke, to ‘ask that mountain, Taranaki saw it all.’ For those that continue to have trouble understanding the raruraru behind writing ‘Maori Art’ I would like to quote Te Whiti and say, ask the book – it saw it all.

My disagreement with Orwell stems from the thought that there is not much room for inflated egos when authors are jobless and manuscripts go unpublished. The one abiding passion I had for ‘Maori Art’ was to focus my thinking and creative output on its kaupapa. Others were also important in helping birth it. The photographers, Haruhiko Sameshima and Mark Adams and more recently Tracey Borgfelt the publisher, and publicist Lorraine Steele, believed in this project. For those intent on reading my thoughts in relation to the book I suggest less focus on personality and more on the work itself. That, despite Orwell’s insistance, would be the more rewarding line of enquiry. I think this book does actually follow its own unique path without deviating. Reflectively author Anne Rice‘s perception of what inspired her about the focus in Franz Kafka’s writing seems to fit this kaupapa:

Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.




rangihīroa, impatiens, Papua New Guinea native, 2017


The book references or is influenced by four river types. The personal, the tribal, the Austronesian and the cosmological. These four layers underpin the selection of material and the central metaphor and they make sense of the force relations contained within the chapters. Regarding the first and third rivers, I was born in Angugunak bluff amongst the mountainous rainforest of the Western Sepik district of Papua New Guinea. I lived alongside the Northern Wairoa River (river II), out on the West Coast at Bayleys Beach or Ripiro (during my childhood/early adolescence), alongside the Whanganui River (during my work as a curator – river II) and on the South Kaipara Head (during my time teaching tertiary in Tāmaki – river II and IV).


Mark Adams, Pou-tu-o-te-rangi, Mt Wesley, Dargaville, overlooking the Northern Wairoa River, 11 January, 1995 (this is the right image of a diptych featured in chapter Aku Maunga Haere ‘My Travelling Mountains’). Even when we used to play on this maunga when we were children one sensed there was something special about this Mangawhare pā associated with our Te Uriohau tūpuna Haumoewharangi and Waihekeao.


In the broader sense ‘Maori Art’ makes a case for a cultural river comprising ocean currents that take people, cosmologies, visual and spoken languages and whakapapa out of ancient China, insular Asia into the Near and Distant Pacific. Eventually this diaspora leads to bottle necks of culture comprising the Lapita peoples further north and to the West and Eastern Polynesian gatherings centred on islands like Rangiātea and Rarotonga through which the very last southern migration of human beings on the planet took place. Those people have become known as Māori in the south and Maoli in Hawai’i.

rangihīroa, gardenia hand, 2017

As with the visual motifs explored in MAORI ART this flower is found in a number of sites, throughout the world, associated with our Austronesian ancestors: Southern China, Taiwan, Madagascar and the Pacific.


My introductory tauparapara and mihi demonstrated that water is an ancient obsession. Water is whakapapa. In my uncle’s mihi rivers marry rivers and beget larger waterways. Water in the mihi is constantly bubbling up from the earth’s surface. Spring water gurgling, rumbling in the morning and clattering rocks in the evening. This is water that covers intertidal space and seeps in marshlands, water surging along river channels, wai that slips past the feet of major tribal mountains, river water that crashes into the west coast tide out on the thundering bars of te Moana Tāpokopoko-a-Tāwhaki ‘the Tasman ocean’. Water that embodies spiritual beings – taniwha, aituā (i.e. Rangiriri te rākau whakangautai) – water that gives springs, rivers, harbour ways mana or prestige. Water that cleanses, that saves, that drowns, that travels, that links and that eventually is perceived as unifying huge cultural territories.

rangihīroa, he whakapapa o te wai, 2017


At a time when there is consistent political debate in Aotearoa regarding who owns the resource Māori cosmology makes it plain. Nobody owns wai, we are instead entrusted with this beautiful thing. According to our ancestors wai tapū begins in the cosmos and concerns two lovers (comprising the physical space of our immediate natural universe) weeping over their separation. Water is the demonstration of aroha of the earthmother and skyfather for one another (i.e. ngā puna me ngā kapua). Kei a Rangi he ua pu nehunehu, he hoa hotuhotu e. Riporipo te moana roimata a Papatūānuku e

While water and the river may seem an unusual metaphor for a book on art for Māori it is a completely natural way of describing process and relationships between people, the environment, history and various art objects that have been produced over a number of millennia. I move beyond the 800 to a thousand years that archaeologists give tāngata whenua in this country because water is mobile, in flux, in constant motion, just as our history has been. Māori history (recent and ancient) is as much about water as it is about land. As much about the tangible as it is about that which is less tangible.

For these reasons ‘Maori Art’ begins with water weaving together various histories in the north. You can only see the world from the position in which you stand. Every Māori history around the country embodies this self-certainty. It seems embarrassing and parochial to outsiders but it is a fact regardless of those who might wish ‘Maori Art’ to only be about contemporary or global developments. For those sceptics I suggest turning up to a mārae or an indigenous church in Te Kao, Porotī, Tūranga, Eketāhuna, Tāmaki, Tangiterōria: wherever you stand it is the centre of your universe. And it is no good telling tāngata whenua that their kāinga is just a small place, that it’s out of the way or that it only has one pub or no pub, that there’s no petrol station or no secondary school or that the whakapapa is a limited one. In the Māori world, as I understand it, none of this matters one bit…but the past does a great deal.




The book offers its greeting to the reader on this basis that tūrangawaewae, wāhi tapū and hau kāinga are sacred and special sites and that their appropriate and respectful inclusion helps give mana and standing to a work. They are taonga or treasures and the whakapapa and narratives accompanying them bring them alive and give them power. The book, for most of its formative period, involved growing the imagery that would help tell this story through the photography of Haruhiko Sameshima and Mark Adams. Adams in particular understood and supported this kaupapa area and we spent many weeks, in the earlier phase of its 22 year production, returning to my tribal region to document and research and spend time with the locals. We walked the land, we travelled on its waterways and on one occasion I even hired a plane to fly over and document the massive Kaipara harbour region from a northern perspective. The things photographers will do for an image. Witness Mark Adams leaning precariously out the Cessna window taking this shot over the notoriously dangerous Kaipara entrance ‘graveyard.’ The acres of rumbling breakers crashing over shifting sand bars down below there were frighteningly rough and so were the air currents thrown up off te Moana Tāpokopoko-a-Tāwhaki ‘the Tasman ocean’.

Mark Adams, over the graveyard, whanga Kaipara




Those various trips are the conceptual basis for the Mihi in chapter 1, the discussion of wahine toa Te Hana, landscape and history as palimpsest in chapter 2, Reishek and the travel of our mountains and our ancestor Tirarau to Vienna in chapter 3, the Kaipara taniwha in 4 a reference to Hotere, the metaphor of the puna in 6’s discussion of Sir Āpirana Ngata. The nineteenth century style travelogue in 8. Chapters 6,7, and 10 privilege particular rohe, Tūranga, Whanganui River, Te Timatatanga 10 focuses on Te Whānau a Kauaetangohia, Cape Runaway. The postscript to 7 pays tribute to Tapu te Ranga mārae here in Island Bay and there are acknowledgements of Wellington’s leadership in involving Māori artists and architects creatively in what are unique civic spaces in this country – still. The last image in the book returns to a different view of the Kaipara overlooking Te Awaroa ‘Helensville’ and another of its tributaries.

Te Tai Tokerau then is both the genesis and the ending point of the book and its whakapapa and its regional symbolism runs like an underground spring throughout the manuscript and imagery.

Giving credence to the significance of Maori Art in relation to its regional Asia Pacific context is important not only to chapter 9 but also to the kaupapa of this book and I think to the future of our artforms in this part of the world.



The aesthetic area. There is an interest in the sound of words and a passion for this helps drive imagery and design. Further, in political terms Orwell also talks about the, ‘Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other peoples’ idea of the kind of society that they should strive after.’ In ‘Maori Art’ the society I envisage is one where locals and those overseas (i.e. stakeholders) are more discerning and balanced about how they see, describe, interpret, endorse and market particular types of Māori art. Two whole chapters are devoted to communities that base themselves around two very different extremes – the orthodoxy of Sir Āpirana Ngata and the modernism of Ralph Hotere. Perhaps to the surprise of some I don’t see either position as solely or exclusively encapsulating the ideal society or artform for which we should strive.

Orwell finally talks about writing possessing an historical impulse. Again I don’t wholly agree with the definition. Historicity in ‘Maori Art’ is tied up with Asia Pacific and concepts of the past not as solely teleological in nature so much as ancestral and in flux or in continuum. Mark Twain once described the Mississippi as iconic in the sense that it embodied the recent history of his nation (not to be confused with First Nation concepts of history). I used the river metaphor and various states of water in flow because I believe they too embody our unique history in this part of the world.

More than this I saw the river as an inclusive form that embraces all.

The appropriate way then to end this kōrero is to let Te Whānau-ā-Apanui artist Cliff Whiting speak. In ‘Maori Art’ he is quoted at the conclusion of the last chapter Te Timatanga ‘the beginning’. He takes the reader back to the atavistic nature of Māori art:

'All I hope for is that the memories or identity that go back to the tribal area can be picked up at some stage. Whether people are urban or rural, going back to their tribal areas gives them a quality that helps them better express themselves.'


rangihīroa, pare puarangi, 2017

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