The interweaving  art of Aotearoa

The ancestor of one of Tauranga’s  most famous historical leaders has helped curate a stunning history of early Maori art through to the present day, at the Tauranga Art Gallery.

Arpege Taratoa is the descendent of Henare Taratoa, a notable New Zealand tribal missionary, teacher and war leader.

Born about 1830, he is renowned for writing the Code of Conduct about treatment of the wounded in battle and was killed in the Battle of Te Ranga in 1864.

Arpege, who has a Bachelor degree in Maori Visual Arts and has been a creative director for Wakatu Incorporation, was a fitting choice to bring together the works for ‘Te Rangi Haupapa – a woven history’.

In conjunction with the ‘Tuia - Encounters 250’ and commemorating the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Gate Pa, the exhibition highlights concepts around colonisation and the aftermath of the land wars in the Bay of Plenty, specifically through a Te Ao Maori lens.

“This exhibition will show contemporary artists and also taonga from the Tauranga Heritage Collection and The Elms Collection,” says Arpege.  

“We have a few artefacts that are from  pre-contact with Europeans and also pieces that are during contact, post-contact and  post-colonisation.

“At the first contact there was a natural intrigue between both cultures, an interaction and a learning from one another.

“Then you get into post colonisation where there was more interaction and a lot of the artists’ styles had changed because they were utilizing European tools and materials.”

Some art forms were lost for a long time, such as aute, which was first introduced to Aotearoa by Maori from the Pacific but slowly died out during the 1840s as other materials became available. Contemporary artist Nikau Hindin has a passion to revitalise this lost art of making Maori tapa cloth and her work is shown alongside early traditional Maori art works.

The range of artefacts and artworks in the Te Rangi Haupapa exhibition provide context and narrative over the course of contact with the European settlers and show how the two cultures interwove as they became interconnected, providing narrative from the past, present and future.

The exhibition approaches how colonisation affected traditional Maori art practices and importantly utilizes contemporary Maori artists.

“It tells the story of how our country is still dealing with the trans-generational trauma and how they discuss the past through their work, and engage with their culture,” says Arpege.

A lot of the work is about identity. There are quite marvellous points of interest, for example, there are poi made with traditional materials, but also poi with wool woven through them.

“It shows an innovation and a development in Maori art practices through engagement with new materials and tools as well as providing like  a great narrative on the effects of colonisation,”  says Arpege.

The concept of duality is woven within Aotearoa New Zealand history, as two cultures at odds living as one inevitably would be in opposition.

However, prior to colonisation, the concept  was deeply ingrained in Maori civilisation and  ways of being - duality not being at odds, but  rather complementary, harmonising and balancing each other.

Among the early pieces from the Bay of Plenty are works by contemporary artists who delve into these notions themselves.

Te Maranui Hotene has been commissioned to create an artwork in the stairwell of the gallery, behind the reception desk.

This will lead the viewer on to the upper floor where further works by James Ormsby, Nikau Hindin and Tawhai Rickard are on display alongside the pieces from the heritage collections.

“The show is about Maori and Pakeha engagement in the area over the last 100 years or more,” says James. “I have links to Waikato, so that’s why I produced large King Tawhiao drawings. I felt they were relevant to the show with the land wars and Cameron and the local iwi sent troops over to help fight in the Waikato and vice versa. So they supported each other and there was an alliance between them, and I’ve shown that alliance by these large drawings of King Tawhaio.

“When we say the engagement of Maori and Pakeha in the Bay of Plenty area, it goes wider immediately, because even with the Europeans, - they’re all migrants from all over Europe. English, Dutch, Scottish. And same with Maori – they had their links with other tribes.

“I’m flying the flag for the Kingitanga and showing that we have links through to here, through the wars and other events. I’ll be showing that colour in the spectrum of the relationship – the wider Maori and the wider Pakeha engagement.”

Tawhai Rickard started working towards the exhibition last year.

“They reference Captain Cook and the first landing,” says Tawhai.

“Also takes into consideration the bicultural journey ever since with colonialism, bicultural relationships and historical and contemporary issues all collapsed into one time.

“All that dialogue comes together and also looks at our own identity, with the bicultural foundations.

“I draw upon my pop-art background and use figurative painting from my particular iwi. I merge early 18th and 19th century painting with Victorian architectural style with a baroque look to it.

“All that’s combined in itself to create a vehicle.”

‘Te Rangi Haupapa – a woven history’ runs until March 8, 2020, at Tauranga Art Gallery.  

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