Friday, July 17, 2009

Cultural Graffiti

I’m a big fan of modern graffiti. I photograph it wherever I go and you can see a lot of it on my other blog – Just put graffiti into the search box and you should find heaps if you’re interested. That by way of introduction to this post about Maori-inspired graffiti and a comment I read yesterday on Baruk Feddabonn’s blog, In his piece about Maori influences in New Zealand art (rock art and beyond), he says he has “yet to see any graffiti based on Maori/Pacific/Tribal styles.”

I think it depends on how you define “Maori/Pacific/Tribal style” but I have to say I saw quite a lot of Pacific-inspired graffiti in Auckland (understandably given that it is the largest Polynesian city in the world); and these pieces shown here, are from Eastland – Gisborne specifically -which has a large Maori population and a strong Maori cultural identity. They defnitely speak of Maori culture to me. Perhaps that’s what it comes down to – a strong cultural identity. We may be a bicultural country but for many Maori, speaking their own language and strongly identifying with their own culture in everyday life is a relatively new phenomenon. In more remote places like Eastland though, Maori culture has always been at the forefront of daily life and te Reo is spoken more often than English in many areas. Fluent expression in the arts - and yes, that does include graffiti and street art - requires personal confidence, a belief in self and a surety about who you are and where you come from. I think many young Maori in urban areas do create graffiti, but unless they have strong Maori cultural roots, they are more likely to mimic western and most particularly American graffiti styles. These no doubt are seen as being "cooler."
It seems logical to me that Maori living in ‘strong Maori pockets’ would have more confidence in expressing themselves in modern media like graffiti, with some reference to their own culture. You’re unlikely to find graffiti like this for instance, in places like Christchurch, or Parnell where modern Pakeha/western culture dominates. From my experience, graffiti of any sort is always ‘of its place’ one way or another. That is, it expresses the thoughts and culture of those creating it. Therefore, if you want to see Maori/Pacific/Tribal-inspired graffiti, you put yourself in the places that most strongly support individual cultural expression. Almost all the graffiti, street art and murals I photographed in Eastland were based on traditional Maori design elements - some more strongly than others admittedly -and many came from a unique Maori perspective.


  1. Kia ora Adrienne

    I like your blog and have posted a little about it here

    You do have some awesome images and i promise not to nick any of them :)

  2. Thanks Marty - on all counts - but especially for the positive comments and the recommendation. Glad you're enjoying it :-)

  3. wow adrienne, thanks! "graffiti of any sort is always ‘of its place’ one way or another"-strongly agree. while generally true about any 'honest' art, that seems particularly true of street art. very interesting article, thanks!

    am going to have to rewrite (gladly) a bit of that piece now!

  4. Some cool street art and graffiti from Melbourne on my other blog - The back lanes of Melbourne are very trendy - lots of hip cafes & restaurants and TONS of fabulous graffiti, which Melbourne City actually lists as one of its tourist attractions! Fabulous. Yet here in NZ, city council just want to white-wash it all out.


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