MAORI art Curator: At the Centre, on the Margins
+ Jim Vivieaere (1947- 2011) + Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (1943-2014)
© Rangihīroa Panoho, 2021. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org The opinions expressed are mine and not those of former employers or industry colleagues.
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.’
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.
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…