M a C IV

MAORI ART and the koru

rangihīroa, rauponga, pitau huruwhenua, morning 30 December 2018

 

© Rangihīroa Panoho 2020-2022. 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's express permission. Details for writing to author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com   The opinions expressed those of the author and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.
        Ka mate he tete kura ka tupu he tete kura
'When one red fern frond falls, another takes its place.'

                      he whakataukī

 

It’s New Year’s eve 2019 tonight. Aucklanders have fled the City for the beaches. They have escaped to Northland’s remote stretches of sand and to Coromandel’s ringed coastlines. This place is a ghost town. Driving around feels a little like going back to the empty suburban roads of the 1980s during other periods of vacation. Many indigenous cultures have different concepts regarding the arrival of the New Year. For our tūpuna it was the months of winter (late May/early June) and the appearance of the star cluster Matariki  ‘Pleiades constellation’ that signalled the change. While June 10 was celebrated this year there was traditionally a longer, natural cyclic rhythm that brought cosmos and people together in celebration throughout tribal Aotearoa. Matariki was a time for the harvesting of natural resources, a time of reflection and a time of planning for the future.

While the heavens are a natural place to turn to this time of year (i.e. Bethlehem – the morning star and the Christian narrative) I am a Māori art historian and Māori art is full of natural cyclic symbols that may prove useful to this discussion. My book MAORI ART looks at the metaphor of rivers in our ancestral thinking as a way of considering the flow of history in our artforms. It may have been a short essay I wrote recently on kōwhaiwhai based artist Sandy Adsett that made me more aware of a rauponga fern sending out pitau shoots over the last couple of weeks. Photographing the fern immediately brings to mind one of the key design modules in Māori art – the koru and it is this motif, its history and its natural origins, that is the focus for the remainder of this short essay. The koru, I suggest, is actually a good metaphor for acknowledging the New Year.

There are many natural sources for the koru. While the spiral is commonly used by many cultures throughout the world the koru and its particular usage by New Zealand Māori is unique for a range of reasons. Firstly, it represents an aesthetic shift in Polynesian design history. The koru, and its many different manifestations in te toi whakairo ‘Māori woodcarving’ and kōwhaiwhai ‘Māori rafter painting’, constitutes a deliberate movement away from the angular forms and patterns that were part of the proto Polynesian aesthetic (particularly present in pottery, tapa and tātau) to a uniquely curvilinear form. The koru developed and flourished here in Aotearoa as our ancestors became increasingly isolated from their Hawaiki (i.e. their various Pacific homelands).

 

Sandy Adsett, Ngāti Pahaurewa and New Zealand Historic Places Trust restoration, HINERINGA meetinghouse, Raupunga mārae. Photography: Haruhiko Sameshima (commissioned by author) 19 January 1994, destroyed by fire 2007.

Secondly, the koru is a response to the equally unique natural environment found here in Aotearoa. The shape of the previously described unfurling fern frond is one commonly referred to as a source of inspiration for the koru. The pitau is embryonic and full of potential and that is what probably attracted our ancestors to the architecture of its growth. It suggests in its coil that life involves all sorts of possibilities. Life is potential. Tomorrow is another day that will unfold in a way that may be completely different from today. The unfolding fern frond also suggests a point of return in its circularity. It speaks of natural cycles, continuum and a returning…

Just the right motif, I say, to introduce the new year that so many around the world celebrate.

Nā reira, e ngā whāea, e ngā mātua, e ngā tamariki, e ngā kaipānui o ēnei rangataki. Hari tau hou, Happy New Year!

 

M a C IX: MAORI ART & ARMISTICE A Century On

10 November 2018

© Rangihīroa Panoho 2020-2022. 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 express permission. Details for writing to the author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com   The opinions expressed are those of the author and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.

rangihīroa, lilies from a recent tangi, 2018

                 Flowers grow out of dark moments

                          Sister Mary Corita Kent

I have never been to war and I have never visited the war dead at the Somme, at Messines, at Passchendaele nor at Ypres where the old western front once bitterly divided Europe and the wider world in two. I have never witnessed the poppies that McCrae once described flowering in Flanders not far from the second battle of Ypres in 1915. I have never gone to Gallipoli to pay homage to the diggers.

 

WWI poetry
Flanders Poppies atop Passchendaele Army Barrage Map

rangihīroa, WWI Archway of Remembrance, Ōhakune Memorial 1914-1918, October, 2018

However, what I have gained, growing up in this country, is a sense of the effect of this absence of location but also the overwhelming public memory of this particular war. The memorials, the archways of remembrance (see Ōhakune image) the rolls of honour in community halls throughout New Zealand with the family names proudly recorded: these are all vivid and touching testimonies to the way this particular war has affected everyone in Aotearoa. What these monuments (always centrally positioned in our towns) and memorabilia tell us is that the Great War literally touched every Kiwi community throughout the land. Yale academic Jay Winter notes the scale of this sacrifice, ‘…the losses in terms of those killed on active service from New Zealand is between 1 in 6 and 1 in 5, so it was that country which suffered the most among the family of British nations‘.

The more I thought about this particular war the more I realised war colours the entire history of Māori as well. Our inter-tribal wars (at least 800 – 1000 years of them), our battles with the British, our battles with the settlers and later paradoxically our fighting alongside the British from World War I onwards – this has been a long, haunting history in this land. There are military connections between Māori and the wider world as well. The language of trench warfare, that dominated the conflict on the Western front, owes something to historical Māori resistance to colonial intrusion in Aotearoa. The British Army commissioned drawings of the trench systems and underground pits utilised in fortifications at sites like Ruapekapeka, Pewhairangi 1845/1846 and Gate Pā, Tauranga in 1864. That knowledge returned to England and was frighteningly reapplied on an enormous scale with horrendous consequences, a number of decades later, on the western front.

Perhaps my most direct connection with the Great War is really through Māori art. I am fascinated by the way in which tāngata whenua artists use a unique Māori sensibility to talk about WW1. I have put together a series of images (some of which I have created) to pay tribute to the upcoming Armistice commemoration this Sunday. The two artists that feature in my collection are Paratene Matchitt and Michael Parekowhai. Both, while referencing the Great War, draw affinities with a Māori legacy of warfare. The indigenous connection helps make sense of the troubling content centering it locally despite the fact that the actual battles took place half a world away in Europe.

Continue reading “M a C IX: MAORI ART & ARMISTICE A Century On”

M a C VIII: Writing MAORI ART

gallery invitation
© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2020-2022. 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 express permission. Details for writing to the author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com The opinions expressed are those of Dr Panoho and not those of former employers or industry colleagues

 

BlueOrbit

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, 2015/2018. 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 a kōha to recognise the many 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-X blogs. I hope the kaupapa is useful to those searching for authorial intent.

 

Presentation
Panoho, Leonard, Caldwell, Brunt and Tamati-Quennell

Writing MAORI ART

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 manner of 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 further back, 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.

 

WHY WRITE MAORI ART?

 

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.

Continue reading “M a C VIII: Writing MAORI ART”