Thursday, April 2, 2009

Plastic Maori

Jacob Scott, Karanga (foreground) and Nga Mahanga (behind), 2009. Courtesy of TheNewDowse
Jacob Scott, Karanga, 2009. Courtesy of TheNewDowse
I can’t wait to get to Lower Hutt in the North Island to see what promises to be one of the most exciting exhibitions of contemporary Maori art I’ve seen in a long time. Plastic Maori is now showing at TheNewDowse. Curated by Blumhardt Foundation/Creative New Zealand Curatorial Intern, Reuben Friend (of Pakeha and Ngati Maniapoto/Tainui descent), this colourful extravaganza is an exhibition of works by fourteen Maori artists, who have taken plastic and other synthetic materials and created thought-provoking works that explore the issue of cultural authenticity in contemporary Maori art. From the development of stone tools soon after their arrival in New Zealand hundreds of years ago, the Maori have never shied away from new technology and this exhibition continues that tradition as it looks into the appropriation, commodification and mass production of Maori taonga (treasures).

Says Reuben Friend: “Plastic Maori asks the viewer to consider what happens when synthetic materials replace the customary organic materials used in Maori art. Can a plastic hei tiki really be as valuable as a bone or greenstone hei tiki? Can laser cut sheets of Perspex replace carved wooden ancestral figures? Plastic Maori invites you to consider some of these issues and to observe how each of these artists has negotiated these matters in their art work.” The show includes vibrant and thought-provoking works like Gina Matchitt’s tukutuku panels made out of recycled computer keys; and resin tiki lollipops by Wayne Youle. Aroha Armstrong and Tawa Hunter of Rotorua’s Too Luscious, present resin jewellery based on customary Maori designs; and Christina Wirihana has used plexiglass, brass and plastic grip to weave korapa – the woven nets she used as a child to catch fresh water koura (crayfish). There’s much more – and you have plenty of time to get to Lower Hutt as the show runs to August 9, 2009.
The work above – Michael Parekowhai, Pākāhā (the security guard), Kapa Haka Series (detail), 2003. Courtesy of TheNewDowse. "Pākāhā (brown) is one of 15 fibreglass sculptures from Parekowhai’s 2003 Kapa Haka series. These works were modelled after Parekowhai’s elder brother, who was working as a security guard at the time. Each sculpture is named after a colour and has that name written in te reo Maori on its security badge.”

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