From the 1950s modernist Māori artworks began to emerge in forms such as architecture as well as the visual arts. In the whare-like Futuna Chapel in Karori, Wellington (built 1958–61), John Scott produced the most enduring masterpiece of New Zealand modernism. Scott and Wiremu Taurau Royal, the first registered Māori architect, were the first in a line of notable Māori architects that included Rewi Thompson and Rau Hoskins.
In 1973 the inaugural hui of the New Zealand Maori Artists and Writers Society was convened at Te Kaha in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Thereafter annual marae-based hui showcased the often ground-breaking work of Māori visual, performing and literary artists within an inclusive, affirming cultural environment. The society was renamed Ngā Puna Waihanga in 1986, and remained a significant representative ‘flaxroots’ organisation in Māori art. A new national umbrella organisation, Toi Māori Aotearoa, was formed in 1996.
Art as activism
The resurgence of Māori nationalism and culture which gathered momentum in the aftermath of the 1975 hīkoi (land-rights march) and the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 politicised contemporary Māori artists. Their work became, and remained, an effective tool of indigenous activism. The treaty was a constant theme, as were land rights, property rights and cultural rights. The photographer John Miller’s lifelong vocation of witnessing and documenting Māori political protests dates from the early 1970s.
Te Māori exhibition
The critically acclaimed exhibition Te Māori: Māori Art from New Zealand Collections, which began its hugely successful North American tour in 1984 at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, was a pivotal event in positioning Māori culture on the world stage. Hirini Moko Mead, the exhibition’s principal curator, stated, ‘By taking our art to New York, we altered its status and changed overnight the perception of it by people at home and abroad.’1
However, contemporary Māori artists took issue with Te Māori’s exclusion of taonga made after the late 19th century, which implied that Māori art had come to an abrupt end at that time, or that later work was inauthentic and impure. Weavers also took umbrage at the exclusion of their living fibre arts traditions. When Te Māori returned to tour New Zealand, exhibitions of contemporary Māori art and fibre arts toured in parallel in order to redress the perceived imbalance.
Māori women artists have sometimes faced conflicts over which of those identities should prevail in their work. A women’s picture book: 25 women artists of Aotearoa (New Zealand) was published in 1988. The editors planned to include prominent Māori women artists such as Irihapeti Ramsden, Jacqueline Fraser and Robyn Kahukiwa. However, several of those artists were offended by content which they felt breached Māori tapu. All but two – Marilynn Webb and Lyndsay Rongokea – chose to withdraw from the publication.
Māori women’s art
The rise of Māori women’s art in the late 1970s owed much to the international women’s art movement. The raw expressionism of Kura Te Waru Rewiri, Emare Karaka, Diane Prince and Shona Rapira Davies positioned women painters and sculptors as a distinctive and powerful force within the contemporary Māori art movement. Robyn Kahukiwa established herself as one of the leading global figures in indigenous women’s art with an iconic series of paintings, ‘Wahine toa: women of Māori myth 1984’ (also published as a book, with text by Māori writer Patricia Grace).
However, when senior women artists were made subordinate to senior male artists in the National Art Gallery’s 1990 exhibition, Kohia ko Taikaka Anake, most of the leading women artists withdrew in protest. The most potent expression of gender solidarity in that sesquicentenary year was the Māori ‘womanhouse’, ‘Hineteiwaiwa’, created by the Haeata Collective in City Gallery Wellington’s Mana Tiriti exhibition.
Women were well represented in the exhibition Te Waka Toi: Contemporary Māori Art from New Zealand, which toured the US in 1992 and 1993. The term ‘contemporary’ now embraced the art of both customary weavers (Rangimārie Hetet, Erenora Puketapu Hetet, Emily Schuster and Diggeress Te Kanawa) and carvers (Lyonel Grant and Riki Manuel), as well as artists who had embraced western art practices.