ĀTĀROA at the Kupe Waka Centre

KOHIA TE HĀ O TE AURERE ‘gather the essence of the wind’

© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2019-2024. 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

MAORI ART exhibited in a far northern community

‘…his passing [i.e. that of Hekenukumai Busby] is a big loss to everyone in the waka community, not just us, but to all those in the Pacific. And it’s a huge challenge for us. It’s not as if the waka has landed and it’s all over now. We’ve got to keep trying to move along and face all the challenges like he did over the last 40 years. We’d be irresponsible not to try to carry on with his mahi and kaupapa. Otherwise, our time with him would’ve been all for nothing…A large burden has been lifted from him, and our job now is to ensure that we are true to the things he taught us.’

Hoturoa Barlow-Kerr, ‘Hoturoa and the waka legacy, E -Tangata 9 June 2019

I started out writing this blog to help explain the context for an exhibition of Māori art (ĀTĀROA ‘long shadow’) I contributed within Whētu Mārama ‘bright star’ a Māori community building, part of the Kupe Waka Centre which opened 10 December 2022 and which continues until 10 February 2023. If you are interested in that part of the kōrero then you will find detail at the end of this account and in the latter selection of images enclosed.

Continue reading “ĀTĀROA at the Kupe Waka Centre”

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!



gallery invitation
© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2020-2024. 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 unreservedly my own


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.

Panoho, Leonard, Caldwell, Brunt and Tamati-Quennell


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.


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”

M a C VII: HOW WE BELONG – Te Parawhau and the Mangrove Tree

This post considers the connections between a native tree and a Northland hapū through the naming of one of their community buildings. It explores the importance of the local natural environment and its role in shaping an architectural metaphor.

Ko te hana ‘the radiance’ o te rau manawa ‘mangrove leave’

© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2018-2022. 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 written enquiry are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com  The opinions expressed are mine and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.

Tangihua te maunga

  Kaipara te moana

 Te Parawhau te hapū

 Tirarau te rangatira

Te Aotahi te kāinga


Te Ihi Kikorangi Toka Panoho, Pāpā outside wānanga at Te Tirarau mārae, Tangiterōria, 2016


E ngā pihirau o te manawa raki, e ngā paiaka e whakamarumaru ana kei raro i te ātārangi o te maunga Tangihua. Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā rā koutou katoa.

Kia mahara ki ngā kupu aumihi a tā tātou matua Kōwhai Tito. Kua whakatakototia te rangatira ki te pūtake o te kaupapa ataahua nei, arā ko te wānanga pihirau. Ka tupu te kōrero whakarite no tana mātakitaki o te uru manawa me ngā pihimano hā e tupu ana kei raro i ngā kāpuhipuhi o ngā manawa Kaipara. He rākau kōwhai kākāriki he kōhanga o ngā ika tini, ngā manu maha me ngā ngārara nui. He aha te kaupapa aweawe o te karere nei? Maaku e ki atu, e wha ngā meanui: te mauri o Te Parawhau, te hau o Kaipara, te mahi a te uri whakatipu me te meanui he whakawhānaungatanga hoki. Heoi rā, hei whakaaroaro mā tātou.

Mark Adams, he uru manawa, the beginnings of a mangrove ‘avicennia marina – subsp. australasica’ forest, Waionui Lagoon, Kaipara whanga ‘harbour mouth’, 1995

Mangroves are defined by the presence of trees that mainly occur in the intertidal zone, between land and sea, in the (sub) tropics. The intertidal zone is characterised by highly variable environmental factors, such as temperature, sedimentation and tidal currents. The aerial roots of mangroves partly stabilise this environment and provide a substratum on which many species of plants and animals live. Above the water, the mangrove trees and canopy provide important habitat for a wide range of species. These include birds, insects, mammals and reptiles. The soft substratum in the mangroves forms habitat for various infaunal and epifaunal species, while the space between roots provides shelter and food for motile fauna such as prawns, crabs and fishes. Mangrove litter is transformed into detritus, which partly supports the mangrove food web...Due to the high abundance of food and shelter, and low predation pressure, mangroves form an ideal habitat for a variety of animal species, during part or all of their life cycles. As such, mangroves may function as nursery habitats for (commercially important) crab, prawn and fish species, and support offshore fish populations and fisheries

Aquatic Botany, volume 89:2, August 2008:155


noun: ‘shoot, sprout’

verb: ‘to spring up, to begin to grow.’


(numeral) hundred(s)


rangihīroa, ngā pihi o te manawa ‘pneumatophores’, te repo o Te Atatū, 2018

Names have power. Names have meaning. Names define ngā tangata whenua ‘people of the land’. Names are tapū. Māori employ and bestow ngā ingoa ‘names’ not simply to define or to honour the ancestors and their taonga tuku iho but also to encapsulate the hau ‘essence’ of a place, ngā tūmanakotanga ‘the aspirations’ of its people and to whakamana ‘empower’ an important object or form. Every important building, every waka, every special landscape feature and every precious structure in Māoridom has a name. But who would feel inspired by a sign written name that sits upper case atop this Te Parawhau building – in a small isolated Northland community? In response an anthropologist might well extol the importance of the emic approach, of being a participant in a community and of having access to greater insight into the values and aspirations shared within a group of people. A local might simply talk about tūrangawaewae, tapū and mana whenua.

Mark Adams, Te Tirarau mārae, Tangiterōria, 19 January 1995

Attending a tangi at Tirarau mārae in 2017 it was somewhere in the 27 metres that separate the meetinghouse Tirarau and the Pihirau whare kai behind it (see above image) that nomenclature was disclosed in six words. One of my uncles – Te Ihi Tito – called out to me, ‘Hey, you know the story behind the name…’ And out the kupu spilled – like a silver bellied tuna slipping softly out of a supplejack hīnaki.

It was given by Kōwhai Tito. [I remember seeing his portrait with family inside Tirarau. Now the shoots started popping up. One here. One over there. And then another. And the whole wānanga started coming alive].

Mark Adams, Pihirau te whare kai, ko Tirarau mārae, Tangiterōria, 13 January 1994. Referenced in chapter entitled Te Hana ‘the radiance’ (MAORI ART: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, Batemans, 2015: 58).

On the surface Pihirau is a half-round barn. Aesthetically it might be read as a rather pragmatic structure. It’s form was popularised by the English in their air force training huts during World War II. In turn it was borrowed widely throughout Northland from the 1960s onwards for farm hay barns and vehicle, implement storage and workshop spaces on rural and sometimes in town industrial areas. Maximising the use of internal space it is a building type whose redefinition in this mārae context has always fascinated me. It is the same old ancestral kaupapa and values that have always informed the landscapes, the architecture and the artforms of the indigenous north.

I actually love PIHIRAU’s beautiful combination of abstract shapes and the bare minimal functionalism of the half round corrugated iron barn with its two enormous upright rectangular doors and the voluminous interior. It does its job. I also was delighted in the 1990s to see prints of Vincent Van Gogh’s sunflowers lining the interior. I like the McCahonesque rendition of text that sits slightly oversized atop the stark geometry of the half circle. I accept it’s an art historian talking here and the accompanying sensibility places me in the minority as Te Parawhau is currently considering an overhaul of both the design of the meetinghouse and of the whare kai.  Hei aha. Whatever shape or form the final building takes, for me, the important issue is the hau, the ‘essence’ of the building; its name PIHIRAU, its giver, its history and the wider botanical, geographical and anthropological significance of this ingoa tūturu ‘authentic name’ are maintained. It is these areas, and ngā tikanga ‘customary values’ that underpin them, that form the heart of this essay and help define how we, as Te Parawhau and as Māori, belong to the landscape and to the natural environs.

Leading senior Māori artist Cliff Whiting, in his work with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, once remarked he experienced some difficulty convincing his pākehā colleagues in the New Zealand Historic Places Trust that these kinds of ideas emerging out of the aspirations and sensibility of grass roots communities were actually of primary significance.

He once noted fundamental differences in Māori and pākehā perceptions regarding mana ‘prestige and power’ in the buildings and historic sites his organisation was charged with protecting through their identification and conservation. He, and others like Ngāti Porou leader Apirana Mahuika, understood it was not solely or wholly a matter of size, grandeur, or historicity. Instead they rightly highlighted the less tangible legacy of the mana in a name, an individual or in an event as of supreme local value. All of these areas of ancestral importance were understood as enhancing the prestige and the treasured wānanga ‘narrative’ of a particular site.

In its naming the humble wharekai PIHIRAU at Tirarau mārae, Tangiterōria fits into this kind of paradigmatic shift that leaders, across the indigenous world, make in their references to landscape, buildings and history.

The true reference in the dining hall name is to the thousands of pneumatophores that push their way up through the mud, intertidal silt and leaf debris of the mangrove forests that line pehu on the Kaipara waterways and its voluminous delta. That image of shoots pop, popping up here and over there is an evocative one. In its wider sense the Te Parawhau kupu pihirau meaning ‘hundreds of shoots’ is a word picture referencing the hundreds of acres of mangrove forest that capture the hau of the Kaipara waterways (one of which sits alongside the PIHIRAU dining hall) and indeed typify inter-tidal areas around the whole Northland takiwa. Hundreds of shoots, hundreds of possibilities.

rangihīroa, pihi rau, manawa pneumatophores, Te Atatū, Waitematā, Tāmaki Makaurau, 2018


...pencil-like roots that stick up out of the dense, wet ground like snorkels. These breathing tubes, called pneumatophores, allow mangroves to cope with daily flooding by the tides. Pneumatophores take...oxygen from the air


As a vigorous coloniser the mangrove has often fared badly in the nineteenth and twentieth century New Zealand psyche regarding perceptions of its usefulness and its central role in estuaries. The manawa is often wrongly cast as a scourge to development and as a troublesome, undesirable plant to both the New Zealand farm and to a real estate industry obsessed with uninhibited coastal views that involve water. Less known and less understood is its enormous botanical wealth, its central role in the seafood chain, its breakwater, storm and earth stabilising properties and its natural beauty and charm. Manawa grow and colonise where the tide take their seed pod. Where the fruit wishes to turn and to drop its roots to settle appears to be an intuitive decision.

Pihirau resonates many other connections with te ao tūroa ‘the natural world’, mahinga kai ‘food gathering areas’ and with te whakareretanga a ngā tupuna – ancestral legacy. Indeed pihirau, in its natural state, cannot be separated from any of these areas. This is why  Kōwhai Tito’s employment of the metaphor is so compelling. The leader’s kōrero whakarite is a richly layered one connecting the numerous oxygenating roots of the manawa with the complex umwelt ‘the environment’ of the mangrove (i.e. an organism’s unique sensory world).

Matua Kowhai’s metaphor concerning the growth and the fertility of the uru manawa has the propensity to say something profound about the fecundity of Te Parawhau but also quite possibly about human identity. Might the central tinana ‘trunk’ of the manawa, for example, be thought of as akin to the central line of the whakapapa with the hundreds of roots that radiate outwards (a number of times beyond the tree canopy) the many tātai that flow and feed back into the rākau?

In the link between mangroves and the haumako ‘fertility’ of ngā mahinga kai the connection with food and abundance is simply extravagant. Uru manawa host the life cycles of many other insects, birds and fish that in turn have historically sustained and provided for Te Parawhau. Mānawa are sea gardens and home to the karatī (baby tāmure), parore, kopīpiro, ngāoheohe, kātaha, mohimohi, kokowhāwhā, kanae raukura, pepe mango and tuna kawari ‘spotted mud whelk’, tuangi ‘cockle’, werewere ‘barnacle’, parore tio ‘oyster’, papaka and the karahu ‘sea snail’. In and amongst their canopy live many birds: the pōpōtai, riroriro, piwakawaka, matuku moana, pīpīwharauroa, matuku-hūrepo, kōtuku ngutupapa, pūkeko and the kawau tūī.

The birds take the locations of their homes very seriously. In the early evening just before the sun would set behind Omokoiti I have observed the kāhu flying back through South Kaipara valleys to their nests out in the Kaipara mangrove forests. Uru manawa are then vibrant symbols of whenua papatupu. By this I am broadly referencing Te Parawhau land and intertidal sites involving food provision, mahinga kai/mahinga ika and places for the cyclical nurturing and the growth of numerous organisms, plant materials (swamp paru hei ngā tae), birds and fish used by tūpuna.

rangihīroa, manawa seedling, Te Atatū, Waitematā, 2018

                       Oyster-studded roots

                 of the mangrove yield no finer feast

                 of silver bellied eels, and sea snails

                       cooked in a rusty can

 Hone Tuwhare,‘Friend’, Small Holes in the Silence, Vintage,2016:44

Haruhiko Sameshima, pehu, Kaipara river, Kaipara ki Tonga, 26 September 1996

The genus and local essence of matua Kōwhai’s image then is botanical. Long misunderstood the Te Tai Tokerau manawa is in fact unique to northern New Zealand (i.e. north of Ohiwa-Tai Rawhiti and Kawhia Tai Hauauru – see earlier Google map) and to the world. Avicennia marina: subspecies – Australasica is the only one native mangrove that grows here and is the southern-most edge of mangrove forestation in the world (a family that includes around 70 species). More importantly, for this essay, the manawa is a feature of Northland’s harbours and estuaries and in particular – the Kaipara. Since 2010 it has been acknowledged as a protected native tree.

It is difficult to get across how special these inter-tidal rākau are, in their forest setting, without physically seeing them from the water. En masse they rise up majestically 4 or 5 metres above the Kaipara waterways and in other harbours further north like Whangaroa they have a very domineering appearance over their surrounds. Who hasn’t felt overwhelmed by these sombre, deep green forests as one quietly passes by them on open water? Ihenga, a Te Arawa ancestor visiting whānau in the North, once complemented his hosts and extolled the value of the roasted para ‘king fern root’ as kai and as the essence of the region. However, when out on the water one cannot avoid seeing the hau manawa, the vitality of a mangrove forest, unimpeded by farmers or by developers and growing freely as they should, as today ‘the essence’ of Kaipara itself. The manawa really does belong to Kaipara and to Te Tai Tokerau.

Mark Adams, mangrove forests banks and mouth, Ōtamatea, lower Northern Wairoa, Kaipara, another aerial image taken 27 October, 1998. According to Northland Regional Council estimates Kaipara, as with four other major Tai Tokerau harbours, has around 1000 hectares of mangrove forest. Manawa perform an essential role in helping filter the harbour system, in retaining and making use of mobile sediment, in stabilising tidal fluctuation and in protecting against, absorbing and nullifying the adverse effects of breakwater, floods, storms and coastal erosion and in providing spawning grounds for important Kaipara species. The scale of the forestation in sites such as the Kaipara Harbour can be seen in Adams image taken from the air. Simply through their sheer ability to survive a rapidly changing deforested and even urban environment demonstrates in itself the way they continue to play a very important role in New Zealand’s coastal and estuarine ecosystems.

Returning to Whiting’s view of taonga the value Māori place on treasured forms relates not simply to what you think you see in the empirical, the scientifically verifiable cosmos in front of you but rather to the entire natural world in which the little things seen immediately are more broadly related. The ‘intangible’ is rarely what a satellite camera, or what a Mark Adams large format analogue camera can pick up. The ‘other’, in relation to a building such as PIHIRAU, is a different world entirely accessed and received through kōrero, ritual, whakapapa, long-term trust and through familial belonging. Let me, though, entertain this tangible area a little longer here to further explore this kaupapa.

Expectations of easy, accessible knowledge are both public and global. The Google Earth search engine promises, for example, ‘to explore the far reaches of the world, right in your browser’. Request ‘Tangiteroria’ (i.e. the location of the Pihirau building) and a globe will spin away from Africa and South America out into the vast blueness of the Pacific ocean and then down to Aotearoa, down, down further still into the North Island and then Northland closer and closer until…It tantalisingly hovers, stuck in the clouds, somewhere over the tiny Tai Tokerau settlement. Here buildings and ground features become a blur. Without paid access, to further cameras and greater detail, there is no more photographic information.

There are however limitations to what Google can offer. Here’s what the net search says. Tangiterōria lies 179 kilometres away from Auckland by road. It involves 2 ½ hours travelling time north of Tāmaki. It is 3.02 pm. It is early July 2018. It is the day after Matariki ‘Māori New Year’. This, appropriately for this discussion, is a time Māori traditionally made plans and envisaged the future. A reading tells the searcher a temperate 13 degrees celsius has been reached. It is mid-winter weather typical of this time of year in Aotearoa. There is further local information regarding broken cloud that can be seen covering, obscuring parts of the region.

Through the patchwork of cloud Google allows a searcher (if one knew what one was looking for!) to roughly sight the Tirarau mārae complex, the river that it sits beside and further structures that sit downstream. One can follow mapped coordinates. A tiny nineteenth century Anglican church is positioned alongside a Te Parawhau urupā. The Pihirau building is a part of this eclectic group. The rough layout is useful. It provides a plan view of the mārae and surrounds documented (i.e. from the ground, by boat on the Kaipara waterways and from the window of a hired plane) in images throughout this essay. From the height of the satellite one can make out the layout of the orange roof of Tirarau meetinghouse with its porch at the front and with its grey lean-to (that holds its paepae of ancestral leaders) at the rear. The pale brown rectangle of Pihirau dining-hall is discernible along with the urupā and small whare Mihinare (lower right) 250 metres downstream on Pukehuia Road running parallel to the meandering brown upper Northern Wairoa River and the fertile oxbow of Piritaha opposite. Speeding towards Dargaville across the bridge (a little further upstream) spanning the upper reaches of the Northern Wairoa River on State Highway 14 (the grey straight road that doglegs upper centre) one might also easily miss Tangiterōria altogether. The place it is that small.

Here is the point in all this detail. One could read this technical, geographical information, provided 244 metres in the air via the satellite camera and not be any clearer regarding the cultural significance of the view. The more comfortable Māori way of dealing with this obfuscation would be to weave this bricolage of ancestral sites into the broader whakapapa and family to which these buildings and wahi tapū properly belong.

This belonging involves the intangible, the invisible, the spiritual, the cosmological, the ancestral and is a constantly referenced co-existent tūrangawaewae ‘place to stand’ in Māori thinking and kōrero. The ‘other’ map that Google doesn’t reference, that I am outlining here, is one frequently referenced by Māori in ngā kōrero whakarite ‘metaphors’ and ngā waitohu ‘symbols’. The primary purpose of applying these philosophical constructs is whakawhanaungatanga or making the taonga belong within its family context. This might be a botanical family, an ancestral family, an architectural family and/or a language family. In the Māori world everything must belong.


Google maps, 2019 (above link ): Tangiterōria  showing Tirarau mārae (est. 1958 and at lower centre of image)  from a satellite camera 715 metres above. The wider context of the maps include nearby State Highway 14 crossing the upper northern Wairoa at Tangiterōria half-way between Dargaville and Whāngārei . The Te Parawhau leader Te Tirarau’s pā (established 1838) sat on the edge of the oxbow of the nearby river which carries the same name Te Aotahi.

In terms of people belonging to their landscape the manawa helps one belong. It takes the map somewhere else. Further, the central role of maharatanga ‘memory’ and whānau networks, as they pertain to ancestors renders Tangiterōria, perhaps surprisingly for some, a richly layered site through a broader web of interconnections with other rivers, tūpuna, taniwha and terrain.

Long before satellite cameras were sent into orbit or even cameras from balloons were first employed for military reconnaissance during the Napoleonic era (Franco-Austrian war 1794) our tūpuna conceptualised the land from the air. Te Parawhau, and speakers from many other northern rohe, have traditions of orators skilfully employing the aerial view – what I will describe as the vantage point of the manu karere ‘messenger bird’. This keen awareness of geographical context, the conceptual layout of the land goes well beyond early Māori excursions into cartography (i.e. see Tuki – Ngāti Ruamahue, Wainui, Whangaroa – map of Aotearoa drawn for the Governor of New South Wales in 1793) and back to our proto Polynesian ancestors and their discovery of land in the Pacific. Ngāpuhi regularly use the Te Tai Tokerau region to spatialise te whare o Ngāpuhi composed of key iconic mountains that encircle the rohe.

The Māori map, as with all Polynesian spatialising of the Pacific, esteems broader family connections. These are relationships and networks, not cartographical in nature, that avoid the isolation and the weakness of singular components. It is the Polynesian hero Māui who is celebrated in Aotearoa as using the magical jawbone matau of Muri-ranga-whenua to fish up the North Island of Aotearoa from his vessel – te waka a Māui ‘the South Island’.  Many of the landscape features of the North Island, as with many islands throughout the South Pacific, are read as the distinctive body (i.e. mouth, tail, spine, fins and so on) of a living form that relates back to those who originally discovered the lands. In the case of Aotearoa it is an ika ‘fish’ or te hutinga-a-Māui that is referenced in a number of our origin stories. Māui is not just a mythical hero, Māui is made to belong. He is both an ancestor and he claims the land – that is ancestral.

As part of his evidence, presented by Te Parawhau at a Waitangi Tribunal sitting, matua Te Ihi Tito employed this kaupapa in his whaikōrero. Sometimes matua is the manu karere ‘messenger bird’ that soars above his vantage point to swoop down over parts of the tribal region he wishes to pick out. During the tribunal kōrero he is also (i.e. in terms of shared whakapapa) the water that starts from within the mists that starts to rise from our shared cosmology (i.e. te wehenga o Ranginui rāua ko Papatūānuku) and the rain that falls as the tears from the skyfather. Empathising with the mamae of Tane’s forcing the primal parents apart matua moves on to the water that wells up from within Papa and our local matapuna, that collects in our watersheds and that courses through the network of waterways that broadly and more deeply establish our kotahitanga ‘unity’ throughout our Te Tai Tokerau rohe.

At various points in his gathering of these waters matua refers to links between Te Parawhau, Te Uriroroi and, in the wider tribal sense, to te whare o Ngāpuhi. The land is a tinana with arteries pushing around the blood that connects its tāngata whenua. These estuarine lands, historically not quite land not quite water, are lungs inhaling and exhaling; tai pari, tai timu. They, the pukapuka ‘lungs’, are named. They are the vast marshlands of Hikurangi and the tide of Rahiri, our northern eponymous ancestor. The mention of the latter ancestor hints at tapū sites like the impregnable pā of Whīria connected with both the eponymous tupuna but also with occupation as far back as our proto Polynesian ancestor Kupe.

rangihīroa, wānanga run by Ngāti Hau o Mangakāhia, atop Whīria, Pākanae overlooking whanga Hokianga 2015

Mark Adams, looking across the Papakanui Spit, Kaipara ki Tonga and Te Moana tāpokopoko-a-Tāwhaki towards Pouto, North Kaipara Head

Mentioning the wider highways of water also alludes to the passage of ngā tūpuna between northern affiliations like Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Ngiro and Ngāti Ruangaio and back to the inner reaches of the Hokianga, to Ngāti Hau of Ōmanaia. This is a landscape alive, bursting with lifegiving properties, with mana, with hau and with mauri. It speaks with the language of memory; te maumaharatanga o te waiheke and of tātai ‘plans and ancestral lines’, of whānau and of begetting.

There is a fluid movement between the spiritual and the physical landscape (i.e. Google map). There is here a mahere pae tukutuku ‘site map’ brimming with taniwha and portents that inhabit waterways. Listening to the kai kōrero the listener sees what these beings see. The listener sees the portent of Rangiriri – the frightening black tōtara log that punches against the violent tidal shifts and undertows of tidal Northern Wairoa. The taniwha on whose branch a kawau ‘shag’ quietly sits. The listener experiences the mountains the log quietly passes, and nearer the graveyard at the meetingplace of Kaipara’s five rivers the listener hears the awe-inspiring rumble of Te Moana tāpokopoko-a-Tāwhaki.

Mark Adams, View from Ngitu Pā over Papakanui Spit, looking towards Te Moana tāpokopoko-a-Tāwhaki, whanga Kaipara, 21 September 1996. This lagoon below is associated with the taniwha Pokopoko.

In this taiāwhiotanga o ngā whenua ‘encircling of the land’ recounted in Te Ihi’s wānanga one witnesses all these geographical components operating as part of the breathing pneumatophores of matua Kōwhai Tito’s manawa. The waterways and the ancestral pathways are the oxygen that provides sustenance for the central growth of the tinana ‘the body’ of the manawa. What else does one need to breathe and to belong?

Ka moe a Mangakāhia, ka moe i te Wairua, ka puta ki waho ko te Wairoa me tona mana a Hoeroa, ko Pokopoko, Kahukura ngā taniwha ā ko Rangiriri te rākau whakangautai...Ka rere te tai tapu ki Waihīhī kei raro ngā maunga Whatitiri, Tangihua, Tūtamoe, Tokatoka, Maungaraho, Maunganui, me o rātou whakataukī e...                  

Te Ihi Tito, kaumatua, Te Parawhau


Hamish McDonald, logo design for PIHIRAU Productions company, 2008

M a C VI : R E A D I N G the S I G N S – the uneasy confluence of past and present in historic Kerikeri


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

r@ngihīroa, our rivers are dying, signage, 2018

The hinterland clearly signals ones arrival in Kerikeri. Miles and miles of citrus orchards set on heavily watered volcanic soils offer signs as to the nearness of the town. Apart from grand frontage driveways these deeply set māra sit mysteriously behind their enormous hedges of tall bamboo, Australian gum and native evergreen. This is a place whose very name suggests fertility, verdant gardens and the abundance of pure water. ‘Dig, dig’ might be one colloquial translation.

As a child travelling on Northland’s railway buses (towards Whangaroa and Muriwhenua or south back to Whāngārei and then east to Dargaville) inevitably meant briefly stopping in most northern towns along the way. There was always something magical about the steep drive down to this inlet. If you sat left window-side you might catch the first glimpse of the white timber weatherboards of the colonial mission set back behind the huge patchwork of stone comprising historic Kemp store. Intuitively, even as a child travelling with family, one knew one was moving through a special, perhaps even sacred, space.

Today the town area and surrounds of Kerikeri have been transformed. It has become the wealthy retirement capital of the north. It possesses a vastly expanded range of commercial ventures and shops, residential houses, retirement complexes and a booming real estate industry. As with other regional centres in New Zealand this blossoming has also brought with it ongoing stresses on its land and the viability of its one major local waterway that runs into the Bay of Islands. Aside from these environmental stresses Kerikeri, in its waterside historic quarter, possesses a whakapapa that feels tangible, compelling and immediately available. But is it? Many important early colonial Māori sites around Aotearoa require reconstructions, carefully rehearsed narratives and powerful imaginations on the part of the viewer/visitor to make sense of earthworks, remnants or archaeological ruins…

r@ngihīroa, Kemp store (left edge), Mission House background, Kerikeri, 11 March 2018

Historic Kerikeri seems to wear its history on its sleeve. The sheer volume and permanency of its Georgian style stone store (1832) and the extant condition of the mission building (1822) sitting alongside it is compelling. It makes one feel history is in the air. The buildings seem to speak for themselves. To me they appear statements about the strange new missionary culture that arrived further south on Christmas Day 1814 on the beach of Ruatara’s Rangihoua. For a moment of time this place was a key site bringing dramatic changes to all tribal rohe throughout the country. Kerikeri was the canary in the coalmine of its time.

r@ngihīroa, Kemp store,  Kerikeri, 11 March 2018

The buildings speak about the permanency of the colonial vision and a determination to protect and maintain a very different aesthetic and cultural sensibility. I would however, maintain that the real historical power of the Kerikeri site is present in the fortified coastal pā Hongi Hika had set up across the inlet at Kororipo. Is it significant the bridge connecting the historic Māori dimension of the inlet has been removed? Looking across the inlet one sees the back of a sign and a dead end street adjacent Kororipo pā. To make any sense of what that whakapapa might mean a visitor would have double back around Kerikeri and visit an archaeological reconstruction and the usual heritage information.

Meanwhile on the mission side of the ford reminders are vivid. On a recent visit inside the stone store a portly middle aged woman wearing 1830s English garb (i.e. funny hat and apron) rang a bell. In her distinctly English accent she announced to all potential customers a mission tour was about to start, ‘…tickets can be purchased for $10 at the counter’. Avoiding the coercion I  promptly escaped outside to a truncated wharf overlooking the inlet. Here more information, more signage, clarified what the historical English presence on this side of the ford meant. You really can’t get away from it. The various contributors to Binney’s edited work ‘Te Kerikeri 1770–1850 The Meeting Pool‘ claim Kerikeri constitutes a merging of the two cultures. I usually warm to the use of these kinds of metaphors and their potential for suggesting middle ground. However, bearing in mind all one really can experience today at the Kerikeri inlet (south), indeed in the township itself, is largely mono-cultural visible and tangible confluence must surely be strictly historical. Reading or listening to the history on offer simply reinforces this position. Take the sign at the wharf and its account of rangatiratanga and mission activity:

The Kerikeri Inlet later became the key launch site for Ngāpuhi waka tauā...Campaigns that set forth from here had dramatic ripple effects on iwi boundaries throughout the North and South Islands...Kerikeri became home to a community of god-fearing families from the British-based Church Missionary Society. Iwi competed with each other for the trade opportunities that both whalers and missionaries brought and politics in the Bay of Islands could be complex and difficult. It was 1819 when Ngāpuhi chief Hongi Hika strategically secured the CMS’s second New Zealand mission station on his land right here.

r@ngihīroa, wharf looking towards Kerikeri river ford and Kororipo pā area upper far right, 11 March 2018

Right here, as in right here. Behind the sign the view extends across the inlet. I have always found it an inspiring and picturesque panorama with the flicker of light across the little waterfall, the ford, to the far left where the Kerikeri river empties into the waterway connecting the site downstream with other parts of the Pēwhairangi coastline. Something though is not quite right about the pristine and romantic view of the past. Something is not right about the presentation of this past and its relationship with the present. Were one to pursue the water metaphor Binney once employed about the Kerikeri basin one might conclude, here at least in a conceptual sense, only one stream is flowing. Not much confluence is now taking place in this inlet.

In contemporary Kerikeri, with its abundant shopping, its booming real estate, its expanded commercial and community enterprises and its pākehā retirement homes, one feels an urgent need to locate another flow. The musical term counterpoint might seem appropriate. I have been reading the useful collection of essays, ‘Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769-1840’. That publication portrays colonial Aotearoa in its broader Pacific history as messy, layered and not at all harmoniously blended. Referencing an alternative point of view, as a student, I remember Binney provocatively using the phrase mōkai ‘pet’ to describe the early nineteenth century Māori position on missionaries and traders. She described them as assets useful to ambitions of hapū.

In the Kerikeri signage I have quoted the Māori presence might easily be misinterpreted as simply aiding the colonial project (i.e. see wording regarding CMS Kerikeri – and strategically secured land – 1819). Little mention is made of the actual purpose of the powerful leader Hongi Hika securing land at Kerikeri through war from Ngāti Miru and Wahineti. No suggestion is given of the subservient role missionaries actually performed. The very lives and livelihood of the CMS families relied entirely on the beneficence and on the protection of powerful Māori patrons. In such public offerings one is not likely to find details such as Hongi Hika commandeering the Kerikeri Mission blacksmith to cast musket balls for his tauā and their war expeditions south. Nor will one find reference to the role of later disgraced CMS missionary Thomas Kendell in purchasing for and trading muskets with Māori. These kinds of conflicting narratives bring much more balance, ambivalence and interest to the reading of New Zealand history and key sites like Kerikeri. Locally such wānanga also bring greater spatial reality to the mission station behind the wharf sign and the imaginary early nineteenth century flotilla in front. One might better envisage the trade that had already taken place between Hongi and Kendell prior to the former assembling his well-armed warriors en-masse adjacent where the wharf now stands.

Māori historian Pat Hohepa in his Voyages and Beaches… essay, ‘My Musket, My Missionary, and My Mana’ writes the following:

Ruatara [at the Rangihoua Mission] and Hongi Hika [at the Kerikeri Mission] began the battle to attract and hold missionaries, thinking they would have the kind of political power their own tohunga had...Missionaries had their own opinions of their worth. But later, Ngāpuhi realised that missionaries - apart from [Thomas] Kendell for a short while – had less mana for them than local traders. The traders lived with and among Maori, absorbed into their culture and mores as pākehā Māori, and sided with them in their hapū skirmishes. The missionaries with their wives lived in a mission with other missionaries, usually separated from Māori community control, with ghettoism a real danger.

My thoughts go back again to the earlier Kerikeri inlet image where one looks across to cut-off Kororipo pā largely separate today from the better known mission centre. There are serious spatial problems, in the middle ground, with the central waterway (i.e. minus the linking bridge) now separating the two sites. There are also problems with the environment in which these important historical sites are located. The Kerikeri river’s matapuna, its headwater, begins in a more pristine condition within Pukeiti ngahere horomata, north-east towards Kaeo around 20 kilometres inland. By the time it reaches the Taumarere inlet enormous changes have taken place in its health. It has moved through heavily planted lands with over fertilised soils and intensive residential and commercial runoff. The Kerikeri inlet sign (below) at the end of that journey vividly describes the effects of this treatment of the taonga and the current condition of its confluence on arrival in the basin. Bright red and fluorescent yellow and sponsored by the Far North District Council and Northland District Health Board the placard advises:


  This water is polluted   /  Tēnei wai e mōrikarika ana i te tutae
  No swimming              /  Kaua e kaukau i tēnei wahi
  No Shellfish collection  / Kaua e kokohi mātaitai, kaimoana rānei

r@ngihīroa, wharf sign looking out across Kerikeri river basin, 11 March 2018

The English version says the inlet is polluted. The Māori translation specifies why it is polluted. ‘Tutae’ refers to excrement or ‘shit’ without the same vulgar sensibility it has in English. The title also infers the nature of the health risk in te reo. ‘Hauora’ has a number of affiliated meanings: hauora tinana ‘physical health’ and hauora wairua ‘spiritual health’ are two important dimensions. It is normal for Māori to see the two as symbiotic. What we as New Zealanders do to the land or waterways affects both our physical and our spiritual health. I would also add another dimension to this balance (perhaps more properly – imbalance). What we do to the telling of our histories also affects our hauora as a nation.

Considering the invisibility of a Māori presence in such an obviously Māori site do similar considerations need to be flagged (i.e. as they are in the Health Warning)? Does there need to be signage alerting the viewer as to the pollution and alteration of indigenous histories being emptied out in our public spaces?

Kerikeri inlet is only one of numerous polluted historic waterways throughout Aotearoa. However, is physical health the only measurement of our nation’s degraded waterways? Is it possible our histories sometimes suffer from a lack of clear balance and a lack of cultural and archaeological complexity appropriately acknowledging the importance and vitality of the indigenous component? My ten minutes are up. I can hear the mission bell ringing. Another guided tour is about to begin.

M a C I I I : Bulls and Territory

MAORI art Curator: At the Centre, on the Margins
+ Jim Vivieaere (1947- 2011) Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (1943-2014)
rangihīoa, 6 Tahitians, revised on Pukepoto whariki II, 2017
© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2021-2024.
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:


The opinions expressed are unreservedly mine


Pū : (noun) exponent, indice, power.

Rū: (verb) to shake, quiver, (noun) earthquake, seismic

In the last few posts I started introducing my Māori and Pacific curatorial legacy. I began asking questions about who controls what is presented in our museums, our galleries and in our publications in Aotearoa. How is this information being presented? What is being protected? What do the gatekeepers see is at risk? My view outside a curatorial or academic position is largely that of an observer. My reference points are my diaries, my correspondence, my personal experiences involving reflection in the field, and the areas of enquiry that now attract my interest.

We live in a highly territorialized world...involving the staking of claims to geographic space, the “production” of territories, and the deployment of territorial strategies. In everyday usage, territory is usually taken to refer to a portion of geographic space that is claimed or occupied by a person or group of persons or by an institution.

David Storey, Territory and Territoriality, Oxford Bibliographies, 26 July 2017

r@ngihiroa, B U L L, 2017

All cultures measure territories with lines defining conceptual and/or actual space(s). Lines are not just cartographical. In te ao Māori anything might be mapped and constitute a boundary: a tree, a rock, a maunga, a portion of a river bank, the distance between two eponymous ancestors. At times spaces comprising volume and the edges of land, sea or forest have, throughout Māori history, been ritually set aside or made tapū. English watercolourist Augustus Earle, travelling across Te Tai Tokerau (October 1827-May 1828) observed this phenomenon with pou rahui, carved ceremonial markers on his journeys, that warned visitors to the area. Warnings did not have to involve implanted carvings. In MAORI ART I recount how my uncle was taken, when he was very young, by my great grandfather, Kerei Tito of Tangiterōria, along the upper reaches of the Northern Wairoa River (a finger of the Kaipara harbour system or whanga). Various fruit trees were pointed out, as they walked along the edges of the awa, deliberately planted by tūpuna, to tempt unwise visitors to break tapū placed over the many burial sites hidden in the riverbanks.

Sometimes a boundary line could be enforced by a rangatira when a pou whenua (whale bone rib form partially adorned with carving and also used as a weapon) was placed by the leader in the ground. Lines could involve mediatory edges constituting zones of refuge. At the battle of Moremonui 1807, involving Ngāti Whātua and Ngāpuhi hapū, the Te Roroa leader ‘…Taoho directed Teke an Uri-o-Hau chief, to get close up to the retreating Nga-Puhi, and with his weapon draw a deep line on the sandy beach beyond which none of the Ngati-Whatua taua were to pass in chase. The blood relationship of the two opposing parties gave rise to the wish not to finally exterminate the vanquished host.’ Lines, made or imagined, might signify spaces comprising identity markers in tribal histories, hapū landscapes and the paths of ancestral journeys or the connecting points of ancestral events.

Lines, boundaries and spatial territories appear to have important symbolic significance in the actual practice of western art as well.  Art historian Sir John Richardson (friend and curator of Picasso’s work) attended some of the bullfights the Spanish artist witnessed. The curator remembered the artist turning the event into metaphor. Picasso, he said, so identified with the bull and its minotaur mythology (referenced in Ancient Greek and Cretan cultures) Richardson remembered him saying, ‘If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined with a line, it might represent a minotaur.’

Picasso drawing the form of a bull. Still from Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaert’s Bezoek aan Picasso 1949. Press on the link for the longer clip showing Picasso filmed action painting on glass from reverse side

The minotaur, considering its whakapapa, is an interesting invention. Neither wholly bull nor wholly human,  it sits as metaphor on the edge of cultural mythology and physical reality. There is something enormously theatrical about this transitional area in the context of the arena. Here the bullfight involves ancestral pagentry, human bravery, brute animal strength and a violent collision of ownership over contested space in the plaza de toros. Who will win? Who will die? The matador runs a serious risk as well. Dressed to kill he\she makes it their business to encourage, through ritualised phases, a powerful and harrassed animal into a dance of staggering danger. They are so close that the gold and silver embroidered cloth of the traje de luces ‘suit of lights’ touches the skin of the animal. This is a fragile zone defended, during the tercio las varas, with nothing but skill, fake bravado and a fluttering piece of two faced cloth: magenta and canary yellow.

r@ngihiroa, el beso de la muerte, 2017. Peter Muller, Costumes of Light, Assouline Publishing, 2013

This story is about staking one’s claim and securing it physically and spiritually. Māori art history and Māori curating has always involved competing spatial territories. This is a story, part memoir/part reflection outlining the way in which different characters move across a space, let’s call it the curated stage of toi tāhuhu ‘Māori art history’, to stake claims involving key areas and opportunities in a field of which I was centrally involved. My narrative, with various acts, entries and exits, is for other academics and/or curators (Māori, Polynesian and First Nation – indeed anyone interested) who may find scenes referenced resonant in their own unfolding careers. My wānanga is my trust placed in collegial strangers with no personal interest in me per se but a great deal of enthusiasm for the intellectual and conceptual territory on which I stood. I regret working with some of those whom I hosted, and with some of those with whom I agreed to be interviewed, and with some of those to whom I offered assistance releasing information and liaising on their behalf with other key stakeholders in the field. I regret trusting these people expecting reciprocity with the same ohaoha accorded them. I found instead the opposite to be the case. What was useful to outsiders, initially, became superfluous even obstructive  later on in their desire to dominate the very same field.

The narrative, from the outsider, usually involves pleasant introductions…

Continue reading “M a C I I I : Bulls and Territory”

MaC II, Future Flowerings

rangihīroa, Future Flowerings, MaC II

© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2016-2024. 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. The opinions expressed are mine. Details for writing to the author are as follows: blueskypanoho@icloud.com

Acknowledgemnts to those involved in helping promote, host and administer the Trans-Tasman display of Whatu Aho Rua



Every artform in the world springs from its local puna ‘fount’. Toi Tāhuhu [new Māori art history] is no exception. It involves the study of visual objects flowing from tataara te puna o Hawaiki…

Dr Rangihīroa Panoho, Maori Art, History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory, Batemans, 2015: 25

commemorative lei aroha
rangihīroa, pare puarangi, 2017

‘Toi Te Mana. A History of Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand’. This seeks to write the first comprehensive history of Māori art and investigate the relationships, continuities and commonalities between the art of the ancestors and their descendants using specially-developed art history and Kaupapa Māori methodologies.                                                                                                            

Dr Ngarino Ellis, UoA

We are familiar with studies within Māori art history on meetinghouses, tā moko…Your book is in dialogue with a lot of your mentors, other art historians who have written about Māori art or who have commented on it in a way that has influenced its history. I thought the book was ahistorical, and absolutely brilliant in those terms, but was so much more…I thought it was an artist’s philosopher’s book. It is not just what you have written, it is what you have made.

Dr Peter Brunt, VUW, discussing Rangihīroa Panoho’s’Maori Art’ at ‘Writing Maori Art’, City Gallery, Wellington


...[Toi te Mana]will set an international precedent as the first comprehensive indigenous art history created by and with indigenous peoples, and aims to help redefine art history in a global context.

Dr Diedre Brown, UoA

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Māori museum and gallery appointments included: Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Waikato Museum’s first Māori curator, in 1987. Te Warena Taua, assistant ethnologist at Auckland Museum, in 1989. Paora Tapsell, curator at the Rotorua Museum of Art and History, in 1990. Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, first curator Māori of Christchurch’s Robert McDougall Art Gallery, in 199[2].

Dr Paul Tapsell, ‘Māori and museums – ngā whare taonga – Increasing Māori involvement in museums, 1987 to 2000, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of NZ, 22 October 2014

Nations and peoples are largely the stories that they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths they will free their histories for future flowerings.

Nigerian poet Ben Okiri

One way ‘taste’ is articulated to the public is a careful rewriting of histories. Here it is not what is said that is of importance but rather that which is not. More particularly that which is deliberately left unsaid, or those people that are deliberately left out, is equally important. The unsaid is muted counterpoint and in Aotearoa ignoring, blocking, ridiculing, editing out, cutting off (whether blatantly or subtly) increasingly becomes the normal way of dealing with anyone deemed outside the group, anyone deemed to be professional competition, anyone perceived to be exploring narratives outside those endorsed or approved by the prevailing institution(s).

It was rather a shock at Jonathan Mane-Wheoki’s tangi at Piki Te Aroha mārae (state Highway 1, north of Ōkaihau, Te Tai Tokerau) 19 October 2014 to hear an Auckland academic announce a new Māori art history was being written and would soon be published. The surprise had nothing to do with the $635,000 award gained from a research fund originally led and secured by Mane-Wheoki (with Brown and Ellis). Rather, it was the assertion by Dr Peter Shand, Jonathan’s successor at Elam School of Fine Arts, that something was entirely new simply because a privileged clique had decided that this was so. When Shand made his announcement my book Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory was just nine months away from publication.

Since its launch, 11 June 2015 (and it’s 2nd edition in 2018), the only thing the book has not received is public recognition from some quarters of academia. Brown (an architectural historian) and Ellis (who trained in law) can pretend Maori Art doesn’t exist and that somehow by employing, ‘specially-developed art history and Kaupapa Māori methodologies’ they are tilling new soil. Both a recent University of Victoria conference importantly remembering Mane-Wheoki and a Te Papa post rather hopefully note (I reference the latter here), for example, that, ‘Toi Te Mana…promises to rewrite Māori art history since 1840, giving it both a scholarly foundation and increased public accessibility.

Underneath all the semantics (i.e about Māori methodologies, specially developed indigeneity and scholarly foundation, specially self-selected committees selectively apportioning approval and dishing out public funding and increasing public access) and promises the same old plant is being cultivated with the hope that grafting branches and re-naming the same old tree is going to grow something new. The Brown and Ellis claims have little substance and they and their backers’ efforts to re-market and dress up the same art history (or worse wreck it and put it under another discipline) are not altruistic but rather about gatekeeping. Renaming or re-branding the same old research and the same old concepts will not make the plant grow or flower other than it always has. Toi Tāhuhu (i.e. what I have already described in my pioneering 1988 and 2003 theses and in my 2015/2018 book as Māori art history – see definition above) is neither new nor ‘emerging’. It has already been well and truly seeded. It has already grown and it has already flowered. It has already been written and celebrated a number of times in the very same institution now making this fictitious claim.

I say ‘celebrated’ and acknowledged because that is what theses submission, graduation and recognised teaching, research and professing (locally / internationally) in the field signifies. I began my tertiary studies in Art History in 1980 because I was passionate about Māori art. I didn’t realise my research, exhibitions and lately my publication was going to pose such a threat. The University of Auckland, to which Shand, Brown and Ellis all belong, is the same place in which I trained and in which I later lectured. It is the same institution that knew about the ground-breaking work (MA Matchitt thesis, 1988/PhD ‘Maori Art in Continuum’ thesis, 2003) I had been conducting on Māori art decades before my institutional successors published and long before they concocted their fable about inventing something new from a uniquely Māori or indigenous point of view. Here’s Auckland Museum ethnologist Dr Roger Neich, co-supervisor of my PhD thesis ‘Māori Art in Continuum’, advising UoA in 2003 that:

This thesis introduces important new ways of interpreting the development of traditional and contemporary Maori art within a culturally specific paradigm. It leads to thought-provoking criticism of current art historical approaches to Māori art and constitutes probably the first sustained critique of the modern development of Māori art from an authentic Māori point of view. This is a much needed and timely perspective on Māori art.

Professor Roger Neich, Ethnologist Auckland Museum
(and assistant PhD thesis supervisor)

That was 2003 and it can be safely assumed that back then I was covering much the same ground (i.e. Toi Tāhuhu) currently being claimed by people working in the specialist field (I will look more closely at their ambitious claims in an upcoming post) I helped pioneer, research, curate, teach and write. As to the question of whether Maori Art needs the endorsement of an institution like UoA or its research gatekeepers. It looks to me like the work (i.e the PhD) has already been achieved and endorsed (by the institution and also by others). That matapuna in turn has fed into an even bigger awa – the book. Neich’s comment in his report was that, in his opinion, the candidate was, ‘…demonstrating that he is critically reviewing and developing his ideas [i.e. in alignment with his supervision]’. I am confident this refinement developed further with the translation of theses, and other avenues of research, into my discussion of Toi Tāhuhu within the 2015/2018 book.

Events over the past 2 years have helped open up ‘greater public accessability’ to Toi Tāhuhu. Members of whānau, hapū, iwi and the arts and academic community were present at the launch of Māori Art at Te Uru in June 2015. It’s follow-up IOU: Māori Art the book + exhibition, Tivoli Gallery, Waiheke Island (March/April 2016) attracted further local interest. More widely it would have been difficult for New Zealanders involved with the arts to miss out on or not acknowledge buzz that had occurred. There was national media coverage (TVNZ, national/Maori/student Radio interviews, newspapers,  a number of NZ periodicals and other social media platforms) as well as a national (Māori) and an international (Māori/Pacific) book award. What is it these people don’t feel they have witnessed? What else are they going to ignore? All of the achievements and events, rightly celebrating Maori Art, are covered in the publisher’s facebook site https://www.facebook.com/maoriartbook/ which in early 2022 had nearly 2100+ followers.

It’s also a bit hard to not acknowledge other members of the museum, literary and academic world responding, in public forums, so supportively to the publication. On 3 October 2016 Toi Tāhuhu was openly assessed at ‘Writing Māori Art’, City Gallery, Wellington by curators Robert Leonard and Megan Tamati-Quennell and Victoria University art historian Dr Peter Brunt along with a local arts community audience. Even Jenny Harper, Director, Christchurch Art Gallery (along with the other judges including Maia Nuku, Associate Pacific curator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY) acknowledged the international award Maori Art received. The book has experienced favourable and, at times, unfavourable critical reviews and regardless they are all openly viewable and publicly acknowledged. Leonard’s comment introducing the book to the Wellington audience of ‘Writing Māori Art’ helps clarify what all this polarising (i.e. the approving/ disapproving) may mean. His mihi reads well with Okiri’s initial challenge that sometimes we must tell ourselves stories we may not like but which we must nonetheless acknowledge:

His work at the University of Auckland laid the groundwork for Maori Art. This book is Rangi’s magnus opus and it is a book like no other. It is a big ambitious, encompassing project, it addresses basic questions about the frameworks through which Maori art has been, can be and should be discussed. It is a provocative piece of work which necessarily has its fans and its critics but it is something that anyone who seeks to work in this area will now have to contend with. It changes the landscape.’ 

Robert Leonard, Chief Curator, City Gallery, Wellington

But what is it then that some in the New Zealand arts community have such difficulty contending with? At least two responses from the floor (‘Writing Māori Art’, City Gallery) that night may help clarify the discontent. Sculptor Shona Rapira-Davies and Curator/writer Derek Schulz respectively (both observers of my work for two or more decades) responded:

There are other Māori art writers…but they wrote from [within] a European paradigm. This is the first time…you wrote it from the interior out. And such a thing…is so risky and very frightening and I see you there and I see you being pummelled. But also understand the fulcrum is where you were at and where you are still. It is a place where not many people like to be because it is easy for other people to shoot you. But in order for the rest of us to understand a little bit more about the interior that is Māori somebody has to take the shots for that because it’s a completely different view from what is normally viewed as art history.

Shona Rapira-Davies, Māori sculptor

Rangi’s work comes out of a very turbulent era of New Zealand cultural history. The two cultures started to separate and that was precipitated a lot by a Māori drive to re-establish its own cultural identity. Rangi has taken enormous hostility from the Headlands show [1992] right through to the mid-2010s. This book is part of a maturing and an acceptance that we do have two very different cultural identities in this country. I suspect huge things are going to come out of that new relationship. I think those years [i.e. since 1992] were pretty awful to live through but good things can come out of that new relationship.

Derek Schulz, Pākehā curator/writer
rangihīroa, This is War Stripped of Everything But the Truth…2017

These comments/prophesies are both affirming but equally disturbing. The memories Rapira-Davies and Schulz raise are difficult ones. However, there is truth and a certain reality in them and both commentaries do help explain narratives out there dealing with/to my writing, my curating and my presenting. I have had to radically accept and absorb the turbulence and the opposition. My thinking is that if one is able to struggle with difference and hostility there is indeed the more valuable, more enduring potential for the new relationships, about which Schulz speaks. To reinvest this discussion with the plant metaphor again, with pruning new, more vigorous, future flowerings can emerge.

The arts is a fiercely contested area in Aotearoa NZ (as if that hadn’t occurred to you by the time you read this second post!) and it is, at times severely censored. Shona alludes to the role of fulcrum/target and Derek acknowledges both self-determination (tino rangatiratanga) and an enormous hostility that grew out of my writing for the Headlands catalogue in 1992 (see my upcoming post MaC V, ‘Headlands Unpublished’). However, the fallout from espousing Toi Tāhuhu, from advocating a Māori position, the ‘interior’ view of which Rapira-Davies speaks, is not just my issue – it is now, whether some people wish to acknowledge it or not, a collegial issue. I believe in Okiri’s argument that a lack of honesty in accordance with fact or reality returns a distortion of truth to the wider community, to its health and to its future wellbeing. It is not just my publication and my reputation that pays for mistruths, everyone pays. What follows then are some thoughts about how we tell ourselves stories and how that plays out in two texts published by the arts/museum community in Aotearoa.

The unspoken elements left out in historical editing (i.e some of the extracts introduced at the beginning of this post) have nothing to do with ignorance or misinformation on the part of the writers.  Rather, facts are deliberately withheld and anyone holding another point of view is portrayed as illogical, weird or worse ignored. I placed an excerpt of my published definition of a new Māori art history above the claims by Ellis and Brown to demonstrate this position: I have already written, past tense, a new Māori art history. Other accounts, ignoring the existence of Toi Tāhuhu, are rarely about individual authorship, they are collectively devised. Facts get muddled, a minimum of effort goes into locating simple dates and details. The reasons for this have to do with the will of an author not open to more fairly presenting a balanced assessment. Too much appears professionally at stake. The hero of the central account always remains radiant, always in key focus, always of key and praiseworthy interest.

A resurrected essay by senior academic Wystan Curnow (republished by editors Tina Barton and Robert Leonard in 2014) involves just such a narrative. It references my earlier mentioned essay ‘Maori at the Centre on the Margins…’ for the MCA Headlands catalogue in 1992 (an essay Leonard described as provoking, ‘…a twitchy Francis Pound to use a whole book to respond’). Curnow’s ‘Sewing up the Space Between’ (a reference to Pound’s publication ‘The Space Between’) makes the good, clever guy the local celebrated Pākehā art historian. Agreed, Francis Pound (1948-2017) was a good writer and he was a good thinker. I enjoyed working alongside him as my colleague and I don’t begrudge the melodious introduction Curnow bestows, ‘Among art writers…there are few I value more…’  [Someone who is described as] possessing liturgical lyricism and high-wire rhetoric…Linguistically and intellectually… [the said art historian’s] resources are formidable… [Later the same is described as a ferocious defender…]

But in the left corner weighing in… the ‘other’ is the dumb Māori…He is someone employing simplistic, unfair and improper judgements and someone whose writing possesses ‘fault.’ This castigating, polarising technique (see Schulz’s prior comment regarding the years 1992-2015) is a little worn by the time Curnow tries it on and on again. It is his duty, he is obligated, he, ‘has to say’ that the local art historian’s, ‘…eloquence has to compete against, and is sometimes destroyed by, the voice of a polemicist who is forever personalising the larger issues looking for someone to praise or blame.’ Having just praised eloquent, cultured Pound (and having cast me as destructive polemicist) the writer then goes on to query (possibly blame) Pound casting him too as a polemicist (perhaps a lyrical, no doubt, a “good” polemicist).

rangihīroa, the good polemicist, 2017

This confusing taciturn characterisation is amusing primarily because, as with that of others who have also felt it their tasteful duty to protest, Curnow overlooks his own polemics while criticising someone else for committing the same hara. His comment attempting to differentiate himself then with, ‘Polemicists seek one another out’ rebounds a little. Te hokinga mai nei ‘this returning’ has to do with the binary evident in his own approach that presents the same blunt force colonialism vividly described in my original Headlands essay. What Curnow leaves out is any kind of useful, positive voice that I (or the ‘other’) might have (remembering the topic at its heart is really the underlying issue of cross-cultural dialogue). A little too eager to focus on the ‘forever’ voice of the polemicist from 1992, Curnow misses the point that rivers flow (3 year gap between publication and response) I had already moved on. It surprises me that after ¼ of a century others are still hanging around the Headlands matapuna. They clearly have not moved on. Instead of the ‘other’ being able to create new ideas it would appear that the ‘other’ is fixed, immovable and incapable of anything but the crudest reactions.

Thomas McEvilley, Art and Otherness, 1992

I would argue that the western hegemony, that McEvilley references, has also had an effect on Māori who privilege orthodoxy and who in a keenness to conserve and preserve legacy venerate their own versions of classicism.

Curnow, and the current editors of the excerpt from the older essay, are then a little out of touch. By the time the Govett Brewster in New Plymouth in 1995 had published his work I had already developed thoughts in a number of different directions. I was testing arguments around appropriation in several cross-cultural panels (involving local commentators like Moana Jackson, Jim Barr and Luit Bieringa) and guest lectures (NZ, Pacific, Australian Aboriginal) organised for the School of Design, Wellington. Meanwhile at the City Gallery, Wellington and later as a keynote address for the ‘Post-Colonial Formations Conference’, Griffith University, Brisbane (8 July 1993) I presented a paper ‘How will the Bellbird Sing?…’ in conjunction with Mangopare a song with a hip-hop kaupapa I had recently recorded with pioneering Niuean rap artist Phil Fuemana at the Otara Music Arts Centre (kei roto i te pikitia nei – ko ia te taha matau 9 February 1993).

Mangopare, 40 second snippet of an original song written by Panoho and crafted with Phil Fuemana in his Otara home and then with other musicians including Pale Sauni, Adrianne Panoho, Shona Pink, Derek Lind, Kevin Denholm, Tūroa Panoho and Dean McQuoid in the recording studio – the Otara Music Arts Centre in 1993. This song was written to describe the fighting spirit of Māori coping with colonialism in Aotearoa. This particular section of the song talks about the 19th century NZ painters Charles Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer who recorded the likeness of our illustrious ancestors as part of the commonly held perception that we were a ‘dying race.’ The music was used in conjunction with a range of projected images at the Post Colonial Formations hui in Brisbane. The metaphor was one of sustaining, absorbing and surviving the pain and the winter of colonisation in order to flower and prosper once again. Photo: Kevin Denholm, Ina George (engineer), ko au, Phil Fuemana (immediate right foreground) in OMAC.

The korimako kōrero was a deeper exploration of why I believe Māori design is an intangible cultural legacy that involves both physical and spiritual connections to its ‘m(ā)tua’ culture(s).

rangihīroa, ‘te puawaitanga o te harakeke’, Alison Park, Waiheke, 2 December 2018

Between 2004 and 2005 this belief was fluidly in sync with that of an international team (a partnership involving UNESCO, Paris and the Hemispheric Institute, NY) I joined. We were exploring a new definition of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ receptive to input from indigenous scholars around the world. Our team worked under the pioneering Mexican anthropologist Dr Lourdes Arizpe and Dr Diana Taylor (Head of NYU Performance Studies) and was helping contribute to an ICH manual advising NGOs. Working primarily with Hispanic colleagues from the Americas I was rethinking the earlier 1993 paper in relation to Intangible Cultural Heritage in a roundtable discussion at an 2005 Encuentro in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. I remember comandeering the rito (the central metaphor in my 1993 paper) from a local harakeke plant, that sat in the garden of a guarded high rise apartment compound, to help bring my roundtable kōrero alive!

All these presentations could fairly be considered both a development on and a further clarification of the original kaupapa begun in the Headlands essay ‘Māori at the Centre: On the Margins’. The work included a 1993 paper (published by Routledge, London), two ‘Bridging Cosmologies’ workshops (a discussion of my thesis and the issue of authenticity in Māori art for the Departments of Anthropology, Film, Religion at NYU) and a paper (‘Letting the Trojan Horse in…’) presented  at Comité international d’histoire de l’art CIHA (International Congress of Art Historians), Montreal in 2004.  My purpose in providing this detail is to clarify while academics would like my views on appropriation to sketchily remain in 1992 they never did. I moved on, others have not.

Poorly disguised polemicism is one of a number of techniques (not enough space to explore a broader range here) employed in the New Zealand art world to keep others outside the controlling group. American art historian Thomas McEvilley, in Art and Otherness, believes positing criteria through ‘special’ narratives is a deliberate strategy on the part of the roopu (i.e. ‘the controlling group’) to maintain control. Is it not fitting that McEvilley suggests we need to examine our motivation in constructing and demanding these hegemonies?

All value judgements [i.e. regarding beauty and taste in art], being historically conditioned, are partly motivated ideologically and these are susceptible to social change, but it is to the advantage of the controlling group to posit its own criteria as eternal and universal.’ Exposing this discrepancy the writer then goes on to inclusively suggest, ‘… we have to criticise our own tastes and to see that certain elements in them are local and temporary and have hidden motivations that are not necessarily honorable …’ Thomas McEvilley, Art and Otherness

An example of this ‘posited criteria’ about which McEvilley speaks is a 2011 extract by art historian Conal McCarthy (University of Victoria). He employs the same central/marginal (major/minor, right/wrong) binary Curnow uses but does so obliquely. Indirectness comes as a result of his utilising other voices to say what he himself seeks. This layered approach (sometimes covering information opaquely) tends to bury his intention a little. Bear with me (the verbosity is purposeful and will require some patience here) as I work through his text making its structure and key underlying ideas a little more visible. I am aware many reading this post may not understand New Zealand’s local museum politics nor recognise a wider intention: a revisiting the vital contribution regional New Zealand has made to the visual arts.

McCarthy’s approach feels, perhaps inadvertantly, in sync with that of the current UoA gatekeeping (anathema to the publicly stated position of the current Vice Chancellor) described above. What he is doing is gathering, and therefore controlling, the narratives dealing with Māori exhibitions and Māori display culture dating back to the nineteenth century. The people who control your stories control you. The tone of his publication is informative but conservative and fully in line with the institution (Te Papa Tongarewa) for which he worked. Their kaupapa privileges ideas about ‘authenticity’ and a series of protocols developed throughout its 19th , 20th  and 21st century institutional history. It is a centrist account relying on nationalism and a conservative tribalism that tends to place quite a tight lens on the past – as it applies to Māori. Given the singularity of focus and the conflict of interest found in an institution publishing and funding a book about itself, the conclusions McCarthy draws are surely open to debate. However, a reader may struggle to locate any vigorous enquiry into these texts. Are New Zealanders really happy having their museological narrative laid down in such centrist terms? And what role might, or should, the regions play in such an account?

The ‘Case Study: Collecting and Exhibiting Māori Art’ concerning the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui is covered then in a small segment of Museums and Māori: heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice, Te Papa Press, 2011. Here the book’s publisher claims the construction of an entirely ‘new’ history of curating Māori embracing both the largest and the smallest collections. Reader please note, there are really good things about this work. Its breadth of content, the range of collections, their diverse location and the broad time scale (considering the volume of material) attempted is astounding. At the time of its publication it was entirely new in its scope and a very welcome addition to public knowledge in this area. McCarthy also assembles a huge range of imagery that has never appeared in a singular location like this. This is important foundational work and a vital preliminary step to opening the area up.

However,  Te Papa Press does make a number of assertions and here the author, at times,  struggles to deliver. There is a discomforting superficiality, perhaps directed interest, in the attempt to cover smaller institutions and in the central discussion of Māori curators. Those in the Wellington museum profession, and those belonging to his former employer and to the publisher of the book, perform very well with large amounts of detail and focus.  The tiniest or the smaller regional galleries – not so much. The operation of these adjusted lenses become problematic when the wide angle focus, being claimed, involving regionalism actually requires greater and much more carefully, detailed attention.

It’s worth having a look here at a more focused account of the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui by Mina McKenzie, former Māori President of AGMANZ and Director of the Manawatū Museum, that more fairly introduces the institution and sets the scene. The Māori shows run by the Sarjeant are, in McCarthy’s account, treated more as a reaction to the blockbuster show touring the United States. McCarthy’s reference to my curatorial contributions (as with the previous 2007 book Exhibiting Māori and the shonky chronology above devised by Paul Tapsell) is a postscript in a chapter entitled ‘After Te Māori’.

Some might consider the view from the margins quite differently. Former Sarjeant curator Derek Schulz (in a 1989 Art New Zealand article ‘The Gallery at its Limits’ also featuring commentary from Ngapine Allen) more broadly positions the Sarjeant’s aggressive Māori exhibition programme, during the seven years  briefly covered by McCarthy 1984-1991, against a background of national indifference (amongst critical commentators and a number of institutions) to contemporary Māori art. Schulz notes,

the Gallery and its Director’s record over the last seven years in providing hospitality for Māori artists and their work. This has not been without risk to reputation. Upwards of seven major shows have been pushed through in that time, yet, even now, prominent European commentators are not interested in work that takes its bearings from grassroots Māoritanga.

Māori art is not, nor ever has been, simply about sacred, ‘authentic’ ethnologically endorsed taonga Māori. It is a much more eclectic, changing artform seemlessly and messily involving both past,  present and future. Schulz is describing, ‘…work that takes its bearings from grassroots Māoritanga’. I can remember following Matchitt (my MA thesis topic – Buck Nin, left, Matchit, centre, son Maia filming WAR inside Dome, Sarjeant) to a lecture bravely espoused at the University of Waikato in 1987.  His kōrero provocatively entitled, ‘Where to from Te Māori’ challenged an audience enthralled with the traditional. How could they not be? This was the era of te hokinga mai ‘the returning’ of Te Maori to New Zealand galleries. For a moment of time there was enormous local pride in traditional Māori art affirmed by prestigious American institutions. If the media was to be believed New Zealanders were changing their minds about the ‘local indigenous stuff in their institutions’, perhaps not the same antipodeans Schulz had in mind. It was an exciting time for those, like myself, studying Māori art. I was doing a thesis on Matchitt but I was also a kaiarahi ‘guide’ along with lots of others for the Auckland Art Gallery version of the exhibition.

So it was against this kind of background that Matchitt unpopularly was critiquing the ethnologically endorsed Rotorua School and offering comment on other national organisations replicating and endlessly copying the past with little inspired thought about experimentation, creativity and the future direction of the artform. This position helps put McCarthy’s Te Papa-centric ideas about museum history in perspective and within a broader continuum involving a more appropriate contemporary and a more panoramic national (i.e  including the regional) context. Dilating the focus helps enlarge what McCarthy (and others) may be deliberately playing down.

McKenzie, writing for an Australian readership, is useful here in relation to the focus on Te Māori.  She situates the show more properly within a longer continuum and within a much more inclusive context:

While Te Māori served to change attitudes to the interpretation of traditional Māori material cultural property, it had not addressed the place of contemporary Māori art within the context of either Māori or the ‘fine arts’ communities. Whatu Aho Rua takes the next vital step in bringing together traditional and contemporary Māori art within the context of art gallery and presenting it as a continuum within Māori society.

McCarthy’s Sarjeant account makes no such claims about continuum but rather allocates a subsidary role beginning in 1984 with Te Puawaitanga o te Kākano (a collaborative show with Paratene Matchitt and the organisation Ngā Puna Waihanga over which he was President). The name appears a homage to anthropologist Sidney Mead’s seminal Te Maori essay employing a plant metaphor to talk about the ‘flowering of the seed’ cycle in the art. There is however greater subtlety here. The show and its work, by living Māori artists, is not a theoretical construct about Māori art in some classical renaissance, it is referencing ‘the’ current flowering – te puwaitanga kei roto i te whare o Rehua – within the walls of the Sarjeant Gallery.

McCarthy then goes on to mention the Sarjeant is host in 1985 to an exhibition exploring collections of ‘contemporary’ Māori art. Curiously he will not name it – does he know/not know, perhaps the details are not at hand? The show, Contemporary Works by Māori Artists from Public Collections, and its purpose are clearly outlined by a heritage historian (see MaC I) documenting Sarjeant history.

This exhibition and supporting catalogue highlighted the woeful attention to collecting in this [i.e contemporary Māori] area (with the exception of the work of Ralph Hotere) across the country.

One of those key areas of disinterest in living Māori art had been some of Wellington’s institutions. Artists complained about very poor treatment by the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts (established 1882) and by the Dominion Museum anthropologist W.J Phillips (inheritor of an ultra-orthodox legacy begun by founding ethnologist Augustus Hamilton – see MaC IV) who made public statements denigrating toi hou rangatahi. A diplomatic Cliff Whiting, while not naming (my additions in parentheses) the people, names the issue and centres it properly in Pōneke:

Two or three people said Māori art was dead; some of us had an exhibition in the 1960s [NZ Fine Arts Academy] and a well known anthropologist [i.e. W.J Phillips, Dominion Museum, Wellington] said “This is not Māori art.” In actual fact, what they were really saying is that what is hung in museums and a few houses around was their idea of what Maori art should be...(1) We’re still recovering from what museums and ethnologists did to Māori art in terms of restricting the breadth and creativity of what was seen as Māori art.(2)

(1) Darcy Nicholas, 7 Māori Artists, 1986: 10

(2)Ian Christensen, Cliff Whiting:He Toi Nuku, He Toi Rangi, 2013:132

McCarthy’s editing of the Sarjeant account is selective. He follows a conservative trajectory largely because his is essentially an institutional account emerging from within a national context, funded and published by the Museum of New Zealand. The editing of the Sarjeant’s Māori exhibition legacy resonates aspects of this heritage. It next references a travelling exhibition Te Ao Marama [: Seven Māori Artists] deliberately positioning it alongside the bigger, more important, attraction, Te Māori, finishing its American tour and beginning another around New Zealand museums (including the Auckland Art Gallery and the National Museum) at the time. I quote the passage in its entirety highlighting portions useful to my commentary:

This exhibition [i.e ‘Contemporary Works by Māori Artists from Public Collections,’ 1985] was followed by the largest and most successful project of all, Te Ao Marama: Seven Māori Artists, a touring exhibition with an accompanying book. By this time, Milbank was addressing Māori staffing issues and had appointed Te Rangihīroa Panoho as an education and public programmes officer. Panoho effectively became a curator of contemporary Māori art and developed three significant exhibitions in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The first Cultur[e] [/] Response: Two Views in 1988, was a controversial take on the issue of pākehā artists such as Gordon Walters ‘appropriating’ Māori symbolism, an issue further explored in the Headlands exhibition at the National Art Gallery a few years later.  The second was Whatu Aho Rua in 1989, which explored the interweaving of change and tradition through contemporary and traditional elements in Māori art, and was staged alongside a current exhibition called Te Ao Māori, which was developed in consultation with writer Witi Ihimaera.  Though art exhibitions without large numbers of old taonga, these shows were accompanied by the sort of opening ceremonial that was starting to become standard practice at museum exhibitions. The idea with these exhibitions, as Milbank remembers it, was, ‘putting together Māori material from museums seen as artefacts, letting it be seen as art alongside contemporary art, and looking at the links between traditional and contemporary.’ The third exhibition was Te Moemoea no Iotefa: The Dream of Joseph in 1990-1991, which was the first time New Zealand audiences were exposed to a significant display of contemporary art by Pacific Island artists based in New Zealand.

Conal McCarthy, Museums and Māori: heritage professionals, indigenous collections, current practice, Te Papa Press, 2011

A number of areas in the above exhibition history, are either incorrect, are too casually underplayed or they are deliberately overplayed. Firstly, I was initially employed under the job description of Extensions Officer in 1988. It was Conal who was the Education Officer for the National Art Gallery. I worked with him on a number of presentations connected with the NAG Headlands programme (19 and 30 September and 4 October 1992). Regarding position, there was no ‘effectively became’. The Whanganui Council officially acknowledged me as Curator in 1989. The reference to Te Ao Marama as the ‘largest and most successful project of all’ is highly unlikely and is coming from another individual(s) with a vested interest in the show. The photograph supplied to McCarthy of Te Ao Marama, in its original Whanganui context, puts the story in perspective. The show is small occupying one of the side wings of the gallery (there were 5 possible spaces including the central dome). McCarthy mentions Darcy Nicholas’ 7 Māori Artists as accompanying the show. However, there is no reference to the exhibition Te Ao Marama  nor any acknowledgement of the Sarjeant Gallery in the book. This ommission is despite the fact that 37 objects illustrated in the publication appear to be the inventory for the show. The book, it seems, came out after the show and without the usual Sarjeant logo, directors foreword, acknowledgements…and would almost certainly have been published separately in 1986.

‘After Te Māori’, both the title and the space devoted to the concept in McCarthy’s book, suggests Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery is an afterthought. The artists involved in Te Ao Marama read as part of a wider national scheme intent on following up on the international success of Te Maori.  And while some artists and the Director Bill Milbank did talk this way about the show what is achieved in Whanganui is far more important than simply contrapuntal, knee jerk reaction in the regions. Rather Whanganui was actually, for a brief window of time – the 7 years McCarthy covers – literally re-centering Māori exhibition culture with modest resources and the enormous energy and focus Schulz earlier noted.

What I am suggesting here is this re-alignment deserved far more careful and detailed attention by the Wellington based art historian. The Māori curatorial history at the Sarjeant is every bit as important as the more successful phases of Māori curatorial history that were to occur later in the capital’s central institutions.

Milbank, in the previously referenced statement in 1988, puts responsibility back on Māori artists with particular reference to Te Maori. The tone of his text (i.e. altruistic ‘their’) suggests the Māori community driving this focus in line with a core belief he espoused that the gallery was merely responding to the energies of community. However, neither the Sarjeant nor its Director’s response was ever entirely passive. The genuine openness, Milbank defines, to Māori involvement (including myself) and the support of an amazingly generous Whanganui District council helped sustain, for nearly a decade, a remarkable focus on collecting, exhibiting and travelling ‘contemporary’ Māori art. You don’t find McCarthy talking this way because the grim reality for the geo-political centre, earlier on in the 1980s, was, that besides Te Māori, there were no such sustained (emphasis on equivalence here) foci on ‘contemporary’ Māori visual culture in New Zealand’s Metropolitan centres. Returning to McEvilley’s earlier thoughts about collective control, a fairer account of the Sarjeant’s Māori curatorial history doesn’t really fit in with the centrist criteria he is positing. Is this a broader problem in the way New Zealand bureaucracies and institutions like to redefine our histories?

Opening ones institution up to greater scrutiny (emic in origin), regarding weakness, is not kosher. In relation to McCarthy’s omission, of information surrounding Contemporary Works by Māori Artists from Public Collections, I had experienced first hand the state of these holdings. I regularly visited and viewed many of these collections, including the National Art Gallery (McCarthy’s former employer), prior (as a Masters student) during and after the period referenced by the show. In fact, the lack of support for Māori art in collections (with the exception of Ralph Hotere whose aesthetic and subject matter was often close to that of venerated Colin McCahon) led to the Sarjeant asking me to develop a policy for building up a better, more balanced Māori art collection (this is exactly what I am describing during this AGMANZ panel sitting next to a younger Greg McManus in the previous image). The research enquiry into national collections of Māori art and the attempt to develop a strategy locally, to address the gap, was years ahead of its time. Further, the wider disinterest from the centre, rather than simply the more obvious desire to replicate the success of Te Māori, more pragmatically explains why Ngā Puna Waihanga, ‘The Māori Artists and Writers Society’, not only bothered but felt comfortable with Whanganui as a prime portal for their visual culture at the time. Carefully cultivated elationships matter, regional histories matter.

When artists did get a rare opportunity at this time to work in the National Art Gallery, Buckle Street, Wellington the content could be extremely critical of the centre. Matchitt’s Te Wepu ‘the whip’ in the Huakina ‘elevate, raise up’ installation (see also my description in Te Papa Press essay in previous link), 1986, a resurrection of a poorly conserved battle flag (in the National Museum, allegedly torn up for rags by cleaners) flown by nineteenth century separatist leader Te Kooti Rikirangi in wooden assemblage, was portentious. Rather than selecting the types of objects displayed downstairs in Te Maori as his muse Matchitt deliberately chose a genealogy and a ‘folk’ object rejected by the national institution. ‘Te Wepu’ (Matchitt’s inspiration),  the whip that Te Kooti promised would soon be applied across our lands, was far too resonant of nineteenth century Māori rebellion and of a rejection of colonial authority.  Matchitt’s seditious battle pendant and the wooden structures that resonated ramparts and fortifications in Huakina ‘to raise up, to elevate’ could easily be interpreted as conceptually mapping out late twentieth century space. Everything about the rough untreated pine and demolition timber of Huakina is rupturing and piercing the primacy inferred in the more classical taonga on display downstairs.

What Matchitt had back in Whanganui was a space where he and his grassroots Māori arts community had tautoko tino. They were welcomed and supported for the next 5 years after which Ngā Puna Waihanga moved on to the National Art Gallery to do a large group show. I find the phase of time prior to this exhibition (curator Tim Walker’s 1993 Taikaka Kohia Anake) resonant in a kupu whakarite spoken by the Waikato King Tawhiao.  Suffering his own isolation in Te Kuiti the Tainui leader understood deeply the mana of rivers and saw the West Coast colonial settlement as he matapihi o Niu Tureni, ‘the window of New Zealand.’  From 1984-1992 [1] the Sarjeant’s Māori art programme  was indeed this window for Māori and museums regardless of whether Conal acknowledges it or not. I lived through it, I and others remembered it and knew it.

Perhaps the most powerful measurement of the importance of the Sarjeant shows, that McCarthy fails to deliver detail on, has to do with how others (see for example indigenous commentators like Hetti Perkins and Mina McKenzie) in the media and within the profession assessed them both during their display and subsequently. Despite McCarthy’s claims regarding Te Ao Marama there is no ongoing evidence for its scale nor its critical importance. This is of course a very difficult expectation to place on any exhibition created in the regional areas of New Zealand. Whanganui is not geographically central, it lacks the larger financial and human resources of major New Zealand city galleries. It is heavily reliant on sponsorship for the survival of its shows and there is huge pressure to create great content that will attract interest and wider support. The past and the ongoing response to two Sarjeant shows (WAR & Te Moemoea) and a more truthful rendition of their achievements, that McCarthy tends to underplay, may then surprise some.

Your work with the Whatu Aho Rua exhibition established your reputation in Australia as the most innovative curator of contemporary Māori art in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Julie Ewington, inviting a keynote address at, ‘Contemporary Culture and Curators’ conference, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney 18 September 1994

Following its initial Australian success at the Adelaide Festival, this major exhibition of Māori art will inform and excite Sydney audiences with its diversity of artistic practice drawn from current and historical Māori culture.

Ivan Dougherty Gallery, University of New South Wales, Press Release, WAR, 1-29 August 1992 Ivan Dougherty

In Australia Whatu Aho Rua was seen (at least for a couple of years) as a flagship show for new innovative work in contemporary Māori art curating from Aotearoa. This takes the show well outside McCarthy’s willingness to acknowledge a less important earlier show. Both the 1989 Whatu Aho Rua and Te Ao Māori (and the 1990 Te Moemoa no Iotefa with over 350 objects) occupied the entire floor space of the Sarjeant Gallery and the entire first floor of the Auckland Art Gallery including its historic Wellesley Wing airspace (masi – installation). They were exhibited in recognised Australian galleries. WAR received supportive critical reviews in national and regional media including Art and Australia, Art and Asia Pacific, Art Monthly Australia, Art Link, The Canberra Times, the Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, Art New Zealand, The Chronicle, The Dominion.

Te Moemoea travelled to Auckland and Wellington’s premier art galleries. It was covered by TVNZ, and Radio (National, South Pacific, Student Radio). If success is measured by attendance and positive responsive feedback all venues suggest the exhibition was one of the more popular shows in New Zealand in the summer of 1990/1991. I only have data for the City Gallery, Wellington while Auckland Art Gallery was a much larger venue. In Pōneke 13, 502 attended. Attendance at its’ Wednesday night series was up 80% and its school programmes attendance increased by 500%. The gallery, especially with its’ Education Staff promoting and marketing Te Moemoea, established a new Pacific audience and a living community involvement within its space.

Whatu Aho Rua and Te Moemoea no Iotefa were critically received by the art gallery and museum profession in their time. WAR was in demand (6 different venues) on both sides of the Tasman. It travelled to the Dowse Art Gallery, Lower Hutt shortly after it was the feature show of the 1989 AGMANZ annual conference held in Whanganui and the Ngā Puna Waihanga annual hui held at Ratana Pā, Turakina that year. In 1992, I redesigned its floor plan, with a brand new catalogue, new essay and revised inventory. Streamlined with 55 objects, some newly selected, it opened at the Kaurna Gallery of Tandanya, National Aboriginal Arts Centre for the Adelaide International Arts Festival before touring to the Canberra School of Art Gallery, Australia National University and lastly to the Ivan Dougherty Gallery, University of New South Wales.

Later in 1992 Whatu Aho Rua returned finally to the the Whanganui Regional Museum (a key partner in its lengthy development and a major source of its taonga). As with Te Ao Marama Whanganui hapū, kuia and elders and Māori artists accompanied the show at its different venues. Māori communities in Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney responded to it (i.e. as kaiarahi and in ngā roopu kapa haka) as the show made its way around the three Australian centres. It’s te hokinga mai was welcomed by artists, tāngata whenua, institutions and the local public in Whanganui. These events carried on over a lengthy 4 year time span (beyond McCarthy’s timeline for the Sarjeant, well into 1992) another indicator of the degree to which many institutions, artists and commentators believed in and actively supported it. Underplayed.

These Sarjeant exhibitions were not just nicely selected collections of artefacts they were shows deliberately testing their audience and stretching ideas about what the collecting, display and interpretation of these objects/taonga means. Margot Porter, a journalist for the Dominion, Wellington 1991, suggests to her readership a depth (behind Te Moemoea no Iotefa) that moves beyond the straightforward, the singular, the traditional, the orthodox and the obvious:

Cross-currents crackle around the latest exhibition at Wellington’s City Gallery. People who like to keep art in neat pigeonholes… will probably find Te Moemoea no Iotefa (Joseph’s dream defeats them. Rangihīroa Panoho…has curated a lively exhibition which aims to be a lot more than a showcase for artists with a Pacific Island background who are working in New Zealand. It is that, but it’s also a visual essay about cross-fertilisation. Margot Porter, ‘Visual Essays of the Pacific‘, The Dominion, 20 July 1991

Te Moemoea No Iotefa invitation, City Gallery, Wellington, 1991

Nor did an interest in these exhibitions stop with the timeline McCarthy offers. Rather these Sarjeant shows continue to be critically acknowledged and remembered today. In the voluminous Art in Oceania (Thames and Hudson, 2012), covering Pacific Art, one of the contributors art historian Dr Peter Brunt in Part VI, ‘Contemporary Pacific Art and Its Globalization’, Art in Oceania: A New History, succinctly saw the value of Te Moemoea to the Pacific community in Aotearoa as:

The first exhibition to focus on contemporary Pacific art in a civic gallery in New Zealand was Te Moemoea no Iotefa…The exhibition thematized the presence of Pacific culture in New Zealand society, introduced community-based arts like tivaevae into the contemporary gallery, and canvassed the work of migrant artists like Fatu Feu’u, Johnny Penisula, Michel Tuffery and others, only then beginning to garner serious public attention. But it was the title that was the most prescient about its own historical significance. The title was borrowed from the title of a tivaevae it showed, and refers to the biblical story of Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, eventually to rise to a position of power in the Pharoah’s court. Joseph’s dream turns out to be an allegory of the moment of recognition when, as an exile, he reveals himself to his brothers as the important person he has become. The ambiguity of the allegory lies in the question of whether recognition in Egypt or escape from Egypt (if we can pardon the Orientalism) is the preferable goal.

Dr Peter Brunt, Art History, UoV
What further measures of success then does an exhibition need to be properly acknowledged? McCarthy perhaps offers an answer to that question when he begins his next (final) paragraph, outlining the Sarjeant’s contribution to Māori exhibitions,  further positing criteria:
rangihīroa, Use Only Old Carvings, 2017

Though art exhibitions without large numbers of old taonga, these shows [i.e the exhibitions Whatu Aho Rua and Te Moemoea no Iotefa] were accompanied by the sort of opening ceremonial that was starting to become standard practice at museum exhibitions.’

Actually both shows had large numbers of ‘old’ taonga in them. As to the glib insinuation that ‘old’ carvings (the kind I drew on from the Whanganui Regional Museum and many other collections) and ritual are a more important measurement of…is it the authenticity of Māori visual culture being referenced here? The rather singular focus of orthodoxy on simply the ‘old’ and the ‘authentic’ is one of the key reasons I developed ‘a new Māori art history’ that describes Māori art in continuum (see 2003 PhD) – Toi Tāhuhu.

The chapter Raruraru ki te Puna ‘trouble at the spring’ (pp.138-173) in Maori Art is devoted to unpackaging the idea that centralising thought processes, protocols and resources (the DNA of a number of Wellington institutions and the Rotorua School set up under a law passed by parliamentarian Sir Apirana Ngata) is not necessarily helpful to nurturing creativity within an indigenous culture. Copying ‘old’ carvings, stringently using them as models in art, conserving and maintaining them in storage and presenting them in permanent displays may solve the problem of potential loss of visual legacy but it hatches a range of new issues that have yet to be tested curatorially in Aotearoa. How, for example, does an indigenous visual culture maintain floriferous creativity, more naturally, outside a winter of colonisation and outside those powerful regions of national culture deemed to be the centre?

rangihīroa, Rongopai Rose, 2020

The next post looks at the legacy of one of the earliest promoters of authenticity in Māori art: Dominion Museum Director Augustus Hamilton and his book MAORI ART as MaC IV continues.

Upcoming Mac entry, ‘Reading Augustus Hamilton’
Augustus Hamilton, bronze bust, collection Te Papa Tongarewa set against illustrative drawings from his MAORI ART