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 and PIHIRAU PRODUCTIONS Ltd, 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 or the Director of PIHIRAU Production's express permission. Details for writing to PIHIRAU are as follows: 


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.

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

IOU ‘Māori Art’ the book + the exhibition. Writing the book Māori Art, then painting and curating it. 21 March 2016

An attempt to clarify what these three approaches (i.e. writing/painting/curating) might mean in the gallery context.

Map of ancestral mountain, ko Whatitiri te maunga, ko Te Uriroroi te hapū, Maungārongo te mārae, Porotī te hau kāinga

Oxford Definition of ‘indebtedness’.

IOU Māori Art the book + exhibition (currently on display at Tivoli, Waiheke Island) is an experimental look at what it might mean to write a book and then paint and curate a show about that book. I could perhaps have retreated into the easy response a number of artists make quoting senior Māori painter Ralph Hotere. His aphorism suggests art should speak for itself. Perhaps it might be said that a book should be left to do the same. In my particular case the publication Māori Art: History, Architecture, Landscape and Theory co-published with David Batemans Ltd is certainly large and detailed enough (352 pages, a large body of images including many specially commissioned ones) in itself to create its own satisfying world.

However, what I found in visually working with key ideas in the book was that there are so many ways to explore and open up text and narrative that art potentially takes the published work in lots of exciting new directions. Curatorially the labelling of the show along with compositional elements in the painting help provide a whole range of other layers with which to read the book. Text in the exhibition space refers the viewer as reader back to particular points in the book. Art brings a whole other level of enquiry to the writing.

Sometimes the technical approach of specific artworks provided a rich interface with published ideas. In Māori Art, for example, I was working with the key idea of palimpsest as an ambitiously local way of reading Māori art within a 5 – 6000 year timespan that included its proto Polynesian, Austronesian and proto-Austronesian beginnings in the Pacific, Island Asia and earlier in Southern China. The layering I maintained had to be translucent and accumulatively luminous. I referenced the idea in chapter 2 ‘Te Hana’. I also drew on other histories. I love the oil technique developed by the Northern European painters and in particular that pioneered by Jan and Hubert van Eyck. The palimpsest metaphor that I worked with leant itself to encaustic (i.e raw natural ground pigments mixed with purified and heated beeswax). This is a much quicker version of the oil glazing I have also admired in works like the Ghent Altarpiece whose centrepiece I featured in chapter 2. What I liked about encaustic was that it physically described what I was alluding to in the text. It also, in its layered process, demonstrated the idea of obscuring and at the same time transmitting in part information from deeper layers into the final painting surface.

 Rangihīroa Panoho, Pao pao te wai, Waipao te awa, acrylic on canvas, 2016. ‘Waipao is the river in which my illustrious ancestors used to drink and immerse themselves. Today it is shallow’, encaustic on Oregon pine, 2016, photograph: Haruhiko Sameshima

The river with which Te Uriroroi identify is named after the flush of water in summer from the Whatitiri puna that was so powerful the motion caused boulders and rocks to clash and clatter into one another. Pao refers to the striking smashing motion of the water.

I created a book on a broad ranging art historical topic with a specific whānau ‘family’ and tribal kaupapa ‘foundation’. Painting and the broader exhibition is letting me tell other connected stories that, while not appropriate in a general publication, are entirely suited to the intimacy of exhibition space. A viewer can walk around an interior and visually discover those connections. I found that there were many ways to open up the sacred landscape sites in my Tai Tokerau rohe that I had only been able to document, in collaboration with the photographers Mark Adams and Haruhiko Sameshima, in the book. There is, for instance, a big difference between showing the public a published image of our sacred maunga Whatitiri and by contrast presenting it as a physical object that brings with it a more tangible human history. Currently my Te Uriroroi hapū are, for example, having their historical grievances over land and water loss and rights of ownership heard by the Waitangi Tribunal.

Water and an ancestral connection with protest is part of the videographer whānaunga Nova Paul’s 2018 work that looked at both the centrality of Waipao river to Te Uriroroi and the 1895 sit in of our ancestor, our namesake Henare Panoho atop Okoihu (our Te Parawhau tūpuna Kūkupa’s pā tūwatawata at the feet of our ancestral maunga Whatitiri – see painting below) to protest the Crown’s breaking up of our ancestral lands on Maunga Whatitiri (see map above) into 15 farms sold to colonial settlers.

Paul adopts the Te Ātihaunui-ā-Pāpārangi approach to the legal personhood of their matua awa Whanganui , Ko te awa ko au, ko au te awa.

I see Henare Panoho as part of the fabric of the water at Kawanui puna where Mark Adams and I photographed.

rangihīroa, Ko Henare te tūpuna tāne, Kawanui te puna, Whatitiri,  2017

Mark Adams, Kawanui, Whatitiri, 26 October 1998

Wai 2058 pops up as regularly in the painting as Yueh (the reference to the ancient ‘axe’ peoples who occupied Southern China prior to the Han invasion).

Rangihīroa Panoho, Yueh, ‘The People of the Axe’, encaustic on board with kauri villa window frame, 2016

Art can become a refreshing way with which to resonate the importance of this local grid of identity and the more ancient layers of symbol and pattern that connect Asia\Pacific peoples. Art potentially can help both the reader and the gallery viewer to move between antiquity and the everyday realities that face a contemporary indigenous people struggling with the burden of their recent ‘colonial’ histories. The three dimensional nature of a gallery is helpful in this regard. Accumulatively the photographs and paintings in IOU completely surround their viewer with their interconnected narratives. They demonstrate an instantaneous awareness that I have always loved about curated imagery. The kaupapa of an artist, a curator and a gallery (sometimes including the architecture) can be read through the experience of the unity of the objects within their exhibited space. I am not claiming that this happens with all shows. What I am saying is that with carefully thought through and well executed exhibitions it is conceivable that a viewer can immediately grasp the essence of a show.

It would be interesting to know whether any of these issues resonate with the curatorial, artistic and publishing efforts of other business people out there. For those wondering what art shows have to do with books and why a book might not speak for itself one point might be worth noting. In New Zealand there are very limited marketing opportunities to showcase publications in a sustained and meaningful way that connects a book with a reader or with an institution (i.e those who will eventually purchase the product). Downtown Auckland has 1 small bookshop (Unity Books) that helps showcase, among other publications, New Zealand books.  The ratio of 1 small central store per 1.5 million people (in a country of only 4.6 million) perhaps helps clarify an urgent need for creative thinking around how to connect a market with a publication. Getting people to meet authors is a key way of selling a work to the public. Following this line of thinking exhibitions are a useful way of introducing an audience to a book. If you are local come and visit the IOU show and test some of my ideas at Tivoli on Waiheke. You may even want to tie a trip in with one of the many festivals (international jazz, wine and food…) on what is still a beautiful and unique part of the Auckland coastal region. Good things can come from small places.

Mark Adams, Te Wairere a Miru, Wairua Falls, Mangakāhia valley, near Porotī, near Whāngārei, 6 January 1995, collection: author

Rangihīroa Panoho, Te Wairere a Miru, 2 September, 2012, acrylic inks and watercolour on board

Rangihīroa’s response to Adam Gifford’s New Zealand Herald article on ‘MĀORI ART’


‘Maori Art – An ever-changing river – New Zealand Herald

Saturday 4 July 2015

Newly arrived settlers travelling from Tāmaki to Port Albert in the early 1860s were at times in danger of getting lost in the voluminous mangroves and mud of vast Kaipara. I might feel inclined to offer Gifford the obligatory canoe pole to help haul him out but I find his words neither generous nor fair. A map was offered at the beginning of the book to help those readers struggling with direction. The chapter outline in MĀORI ART very clearly indicates how the book will unfold. A senior editor acknowledged that structure as working. Gifford has chosen to chart his own course so, I will go with his points largely in the (dis)order he, or perhaps the ‘community of taste’ behind him, makes. The muddled response, perhaps the various voices pulling at his ear, may account for the mixed bag of thoughts offered up. For those left even more confused I say, bypass the review, buy the book. If you still are confused and looking for more explanation read on. The following is an attempt to make sense of what was dished up last weekend. The plethora of unfounded and dismissive statements beg response.

(‘Having garnered academic credentials, he feels obliged to deliver the definitive text, the big book.’)

Firstly with regard to the idea that my degrees give me some presumptuous right to create a definitive Toi Tāhuhu ‘Māori art history’. What would Gifford and others in the community of taste prefer? A Māori less qualified with less or no degrees or no PhD? Someone sitting in a position in a gallery, a university or museum who better serves an institutional agenda? As Māori the best thing we can offer the world is to tell the story as we see it. I have never presumed to write a definitive text that kills other people’s stories. Big authoritative books, is apparently what other colleagues are interested in at the moment. That I feel this way can already be read in my own 2013 critique on the first book called MĀORI ART by Augustus Hamilton in 1898. As to this book, yes it has grown large but it also demonstrates a genuine heartfelt commitment to Māori art and it’s diverse communities. It will be others (not simply locals) who over a much longer timeframe, will assess the importance of MĀORI ART in the wider scheme of things. I, along with many others, gave everything we had to get this out. That energy deserves to be properly and respectfully recognised.

As for shying away from making the big calls in relation to Maori art and avoiding a discussion of Māori modernism – who are Gifford and his mates kidding? There are some institutions that get way too much self congratulatory praise, and even mention, in a book review here about ‘Māori Art’ not trotting out out their own average record with curating and funding costly projects on the topic. Lets put modernism and its various offshoots (i.e post-modernism…) in their place. MĀORI ART introduces a new expansive vision of 5-6,000 years of history. Māori are simply the end of that long trail beginning in Southern China and many earlier Hawaiki throughout insular Asia even prior to the West and East Polynesian homelands. Contemporary Māori (modern/post-modern…) is a post world war II phenomenon that is an even smaller dot on the horizon. This “is” making the big call and I never shie away from either this huge panorama, or the intensely microcosmic tribal view, or from acknowledging some of our great European, American and global treasures. Where is the book on Maori Art by a Maori, within the discipline of art history, that dares to cover that territory? If someone else wants to bring that book out it’a little too late – it’s already out. Buy the book. Read about it.

And what’s with the idea of knocking someone who has spent their entire working life committed to Māori art history? Isn’t it a good thing that someone has chosen to dedicate themselves to write and share their life work in their specialist area? My understanding of the Māori world is that we love to celebrate the achievements of our own. I am not seeking to place myself above judgement, and regardless of whether or not people are agreeable with what I say, what has been achieved should be properly acknowledged otherwise commentary tends to be read as unflatteringly bitter. Noone can require that others acknowledge achievement but if a reviewer is reluctant to do so, as is abundantly clear in this review, he can hardly take issue with factual statements about primacy that demonstrate achievement. More typically I have found others, particularly Māori in the media, enormously generous in both the response and the pride they take in the achievements of their own. How many Māori do we get coming through with PhDs in Art History prior to 2003 or being offered an international contract to publish in Toi Tāhuhu prior to 1994? I may feel a little uncomfortable with TVNZ and Radio referencing me as an ‘expert’ in relation to my PhD and my past career but that is someone else’s thing, not mine. Indeed in my own trailer for the book, and within the book itself, I make it clear that so called ‘experts’ can sometimes prove problematic in the history of Māori art (again the reviewer or whomever made the comment regarding Sir Āpirana Ngata totally missed the point of the chapter).

Perhaps one of the saddest things, as the object of a review, is gaining an impression the reviewer is having a discussion about something else (personality, other people, other people’s opinions, other histories, other ideas…) and NOT the book itself. I can only attribute such dislocation to one of two issues. Either Gifford has trouble reading the book because: he doesn’t want to accept another take on Toi Tāhuhu or perhaps more likely he simply hasn’t taken the time to more carefully consider, reflect on and try to understand the work. Perhaps the reviewer may have done well to listen to my tuākana at the launch at Te Uru when he warned, ‘… this is not the kind of book that you can just [frivolously] dip into …’. It is a meditative philosophical work requiring reciprocal respect, focus and determination on the part of the reader. Not engaging with content leads to the kind of disconnected shallow commentary, and the resulting confused readership, under discussion here.

Take for example the decontextualising of key content crudely reduced to throwaway lines. ‘He describes his alternative as a palimpsest, after the scraping off and writing over old manuscripts.’ Presumably this explanation is supposed to help a reader understand how I was creating Toi Tāhuhu, a new Māori Art history. The line offers no hope that this reviewer possesses any real understanding of what palimpsest means in my book, its emphasis on translucency versus opacity, the use of Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s aesthetic, the avoidance of replacement and the importance of everpresent accumulative layers and the key concept of te hana ‘radiance’. Of course he can’t possibly go into this kind of detail but he does bring up material later in the review which could have very quickly deepened the idea. The discussion of Fred Graham and Shona Rapira-Davies’ sculptural installation was a lost opportunity to clarify palimpsest. Did he simply chose to ignore the idea because he simply didn’t care enough to read any further about why I chose to describe those two important public works?

My critical commentary on the opinions of others, specifically in relation to Māori art criticism, is also removed from its context and rather obviously used to try to create controversy. The idea that I am, ‘…picking a fight’ with various writers such as Ranginui Walker, Robert Leonard and Greg Burke is simply not factual. The wording is inciteful and silly, While he is annoyed by Walker’s conservatism, he is seriously angered.’ Says who? Now the reviewer reads my mind. I don’t know if Māori art history is something one can get that seriously angry over. Celebrated American modernist critic Clement Greeenberg, who visited New Zealand in 1968, certainly didn’t think that art history was something worth getting worked up over. More to the point, people get angry over lots of other things: power, loss of control, ego, reputation, threatened investment in objects and artists and so on.

Since he is trying to pursue the controversial line lets look at that idea. In relation to both Walker and Walker’s text on Harrison’s work he will have problems connecting the dots. I consider Harrison a whānuanga, I told whānau about my writing and in case there is any doubt I am a big admirer of Harrison’s toi whakairo (particularly that inside Tanenui-a-Rangi and Rākaiora at Harataunga). I also have a lot of time for Walker’s voice and am thrilled he covered the colourful life of this very important carver, mentor and teacher in his biography. On the odd occasion that Ranginui has expressed an opinion in my specialist area I have not shied away from voicing concern if I felt it was important. Such expression is here both warranted and necessary. ‘Te Waiherehere’ the chapter (the short chapter under discussion here) where all three people (Ranginui, Burke and Leonard) are mentioned is entirely devoted to what others say about Māori art. Presumably New Zealanders and the world are interested not only in monologues, from institutions and from key stakeholders, but also critical engagements with these narratives as well. The purpose of weighing up these veiwpoints is to look at the different ways in which people perceive and value particular expressions of Māori art over different periods of time. Comparing and contrasting ideas and philosophical positions is a pretty normal practice in the discipline. If you look at each of these people examined and others mentioned they have put themselves and their strong opinions out into the public arena. Why shouldn’t they expect critical response? Is it preferable that those the community of taste patronises, employs or supports not be questioned, challenged or queried? It is a real shock to me that a lot of this kōrero seems to have gone unnoticed and in some cases, where it begs to be tested, unchallenged.

(‘That’s where the book gets unwieldy. If it had come out in the 1990s it might have contributed to the effort to write the Maori modernists into the canon of New Zealand modernism, a job that has now been taken up by the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki.’)

This is where the review gets unwieldy and hopelessly irrelevant. Nobody, and certainly not a Māori, could have brought a book out like this one, in relation to the discipline of art history, in the early 1990s let alone 2015. I only finished my Masters thesis in 1988. I was 24 years of age. What did I know about Māori Art, life, and how things are approved or advanced in the New Zealand artworld? The offer by a major publishing house for a Māori to write a book on contemporary Maori art for the local and international market came in 1993 from Sydney, not New Zealand. It was Craftsman House under Gordon and Breach International Publishing Group who first offered me a contract that was totally unique at the time. Books like this don’t just appear in a couple of years.

As for the issue of writing Māori into some imagined New Zealand canon of modernism. What an absolute waste of time and public money in the service of a hopelessly outdated objective that seriously deserves to sucumb to local government scrutiny and wider social and political change. Again anyone reading my book would know I don’t have much faith in a pantheon of artists endorsed by the community of taste. You received poor advice in picking the wrong person to try out this idea of ommission. The words of American Thomas McEvilley, from ‘Art and Otherness’ (enjoyed in both MĀORI ART and in my PhD) are both pertinent and timely in relation to the vested interest oozing from this attack:

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 …

If the reviewer had more carefully read the work he would have demonstrated an appreciation that MĀORI ART, for its own unique reasons, involves a very different sense of taste and quite different criteria in its selection of material, imagery and ideas. It is not only a different kind of project. It is a lifetimes work. Here a later comment is more useful to this particular discussion:

(‘Panoho’s views may have been better served by a more regular publishing schedule – collections of essays, perhaps poetic explorations of history and landscape illuminated by Mark Adams’ photographs, monographs on Matchitt or Hotere, and exhibition catalogues for the shows Panoho needs to curate to bring what he loves to the attention of an audience.’)

The country that I have been working in for nearly the last three decades would never have publically funded one individual let alone the team of individuals required to undertake all of the projects patronisingly suggested here. MĀORI ART was generously supported, to an extent, by Creative New Zealand, Te Puni Kōkiri and the Asia New Zealand Foundation. However, not even a larger institution may have been able to practice this glibly offered advice. I doubt any institution would have had the focus, determination and experience (shared amongst myself, Adams and Sameshima) to sustain this type of unique collaborative project over such a time period. The words ‘better served’ then ring hollow. Better served by whom or what? This project was largely altruistic. Primarily it was my family, the photographers and their homes that bore the costs of this beautiful high end book. It is a 23 year long project that would quite easily have sunk many a writer and would have hopelessly frustrated any institution. As for the helpful suggestion of curating and monographs. Why? Doesn’t New Zealand have enough monographs on artists and surveys…? Why keep working within formulas and with structures that are not helpful to the flow of the art or to embracing its broad diversity.

In relation to the idea that I should have gone off and curated some of the material in Māori Art. Oh yes, try a different profession. I thought I had already given enough to Māori and Pacific art in this area in the Australasian gallery museum circuit (see current blog Maori Curator I,II…which describe this legacy in detail) Nothing much can be achieved in this country (not all countries) if key stakeholders don’t support it and galleries won’t collaborate. This is why I would appeal to the reader to buy the book MĀORI ART and make up your own minds as to whether there is value in supporting its flow. Paraphrasing the great Ephesian philosopher Heraclitus I say, ‘…dip your feet in the river and neither you nor the river will be the same again.’