We decided to visit the Auckland Art Gallery and managed to see a retrospective of the paintings of Robert Ellis. Robert Ellis is one of New Zealand’s pre-eminent artists. He has held more than 60 solo exhibitions and innumerable group exhibitions in New Zealand and abroad. Over the past decades Robert Ellis’s paintings have addressed issues of New Zealand identity in which he draws together threads of European and Pacific cultures. These works make observations about the two cultural threads from a personal as well as social perspective. They combine European and Pacific images. Those deriving from the West include the horse, chair and chalice and medieval geometric designs. The Pacific imagery features the Ratana symbol and the koru while there are a number of others that cross boundaries such as the hand, the fish and the stars.” Because of his long career, we can identify three periods of his work, beginning with roads as boundaries, progressing to a deep awareness of the Māori culture and finally to a fusion of European and Polynesian symbols as seen in the work above.
When we visited Te Puia, we had a chance to visit the schools of Carving and Weaving. As the Māori did not have a written language until the 19th century, carvings were used to record and preserve the history and culture of their people. Ornate Māori carvings can be found on meeting houses, canoes, weapons and jewelry, with superior carvings seen as a sign of prestige. Māori carvings are a record of tribal affairs and pay deep respect to ancestors, history and the people for whom they are prepared – although they cannot be read or interpreted in a Western sense. The isolation from the rest of Polynesia means Māori wood carving differs significantly from other Pacific styles, although the basic patterns are believed to originate from their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki (Hawaii). The name ‘Te Rito’ is based on the baby shoot at the heart of the flax. Students are taught never to disturb the inner shoots when cutting flax as the baby along with its mother and father on each side is a family unit that should not be broken. Like the Carving School, Te Rito has been involved in a range of projects to develop cultural heritage assets for Māori.
The New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) opened in 1967 in Rotorua, New Zealand due to the impending threat of the loss of traditional Māori arts. In 1926 a Māori Arts and Crafts school had been established in Rotorua by Sir Apirana Ngata, and the new school continued the tradition in a location well-established for traditional Māori arts and crafts. The location of school at Whakarewarewa enabled easy access to the tourist market, which supports the various schools. Whakarewarewa (reduced version of Te Whakarewarewatanga O Te Ope Taua A Wahiao, meaning “The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao”, often abbreviated to Whaka by locals) is a geothermal area within Rotorua city in the Taupo Volcanic Zone of New Zealand. This was the site of the Māori fortress of Te Puia, first occupied around 1325, and known as an impenetrable stronghold never taken in battle. Māori have lived here ever since, taking full advantage of the geothermal activity in the valley for heating and cooking. Wahiao was a great ancestor to the people of this valley and the chief of Ngati Wahiao, a subtribe of Te Arawa.