Story: Contemporary Māori art – ngā toi hōu

Page 5. Contemporary Māori art in the 2000s

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Independent arts advocacy

An independent Māori arts advocacy organisation, Toi Māori Aotearoa, was formed in 1996. It continued the work of Te Waka Toi in taking Māori art to the world with considerable vigour, actively seeking opportunities for customary and contemporary Māori artists to display and market their work. The Māori Art Market provided an outlet for such work.

Kaupapa Māori teaching

Kaupapa Māori-based art programmes also arose in the 1990s. They included:

  • Toihoukura at Tairāwhiti Polytechnic (later a campus of the Eastern Institute of Technology), Gisborne. Toihoukura was founded in 1993 by Sandy Adsett and Derek Lardelli, one of the foremost exponents of tā moko (traditional tattooing).
  • Toimairangi in Hastings (a distance learning outstation of Te Whare Wānanga o Aotearoa, Te Awamutu), founded by Sandy Adsett in 2002. Master carver Pakariki Harrison and weaver Diggeress Te Kanawa stamped their authority on the customary arts programmes of the Wānanga o Aotearoa.
  • Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, Whakatāne.
  • Massey University’s Te Pūtahi-a-Toi Visual Arts programme, instituted in 1993 under the academic leadership of Professor Robert Jahnke.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

In 1985 Hirini Moko Mead proposed a National Centre of Māori Art. This proposal was overtaken by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington. When it opened in 1998, the museum’s marae was controversial. Work on the cartoonish figures and optically disconcerting design and colour schemes for the wharenui Te Hono ki Hawaiki was overseen by Cliff Whiting.

New-wave marae

Whiting went on to work on the similarly innovative wharenui Maru Kaitatea at Takahanga marae in Kaikōura, which opened in 2001, and Tahu Pōtiki at Te Rau Aroha marae in Bluff. Among the wharenui designed by architect Rewi Thompson was that at Ngāti Ōtara marae in 1984, while Lyonel Grant has carved a succession of wharenui: Te Papa o te Aroha, Tokoroa; Ihenga, Rotorua; and Ngākau Māhaki at Unitec, Auckland.

A new millennium

As the new millennium dawned on 1 January 2000, a vast global audience of television viewers saw dignitaries assembled on the summit of Mt Hikurangi on the East Coast for the dedication of a group of nine large whakairo (carvings). Made by students from Toihoukura under the direction of Derek Lardelli, the whakairo relate to the story of the demigod Māui.

Saints and mothers

Isiaha Barlow’s contribution to the 2001 group exhibition Purangiaho: Seeing Clearly was an ‘iconostasis’ – a series of 12 male ‘saints’ of contemporary Māori art depicted in the Byzantine style of Russian Orthodox painting. The panels depict the ‘originators’, including St Fred (Graham), St Ralph (Hōtere) and St Buck (Nin), and relative latecomers St Darcy (Nicholas) and St Bob (Jahnke). In 2002 Barlow completed a set of three medieval triptych altarpieces, each depicting the enthroned figure of a ‘mother’ of contemporary Māori art: Mother Emare (Karaka), Mother Kura (Te Waru Rewiri) and artist-activist Mother Robyn (Kahukiwa). 

Emerging artists

In Christchurch the exhibition Hiko! New Energies in Māori Art (1999) presented the work of seven emerging artists whose world views were in part shaped by the digital age in which they had emerged. In exploring the potential of the new technologies of their times, the young artists were doing what generations of their predecessors had done when confronted with new possibilities. This idea was investigated further in City Gallery Wellington’s 2001 exhibition, Techno Māori: Māori Art in the Digital Age. Concurrently, at the Auckland Art Gallery Purangiaho: Seeing Clearly, a more intergenerational exhibition curated by Ngahiraka Mason, focused on revealing ‘the legacy of tradition in contemporary Māori art’.1

Newer Māori artists in the 2000s included Saffronn Te Ratana, Wayne Youle, Kelcy Taratoi and Star Gossage.

Venice Biennale

When New Zealand first participated in the Venice International Biennale of Contemporary Art, in 2001, Peter Robinson and Jacqueline Fraser (both from Ngāi Tahu) were selected to represent their country. Michael Parekowhai was chosen for the 2011 biennale. Brett Graham and Rachael Rakena were invited to exhibit in one of the biennale’s collateral events in 2007, as was Darryn George in 2013.

Walters Prize

Māori artists who have been shortlisted for the Auckland Art Gallery’s prestigious Walters Prize, instituted in 2002, include Peter Robinson (twice), Jacqueline Fraser and Lisa Reihana. Robinson was awarded the prize in 2008.

Honoured artists

Māori are now among New Zealand’s most honoured artists. The Arts Foundation has honoured Māori artists as laureates (Shane Cotton, Lyonel Grant, Fiona Pardington, Michael Parekowhai, Barry Barclay and Derek Lardelli); as icons (Ralph Hōtere, Pakariki Harrison, Diggeress Te Kanawa, Cliff Whiting and Arnold Wilson); and as new generation artists (Ngaahina Hohaia and Taika Waititi, director of the 2010 film Boy). John Miller and Neil Pardington have each received the Marti Friedlander Award for photography. Cliff Whiting was appointed to New Zealand’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, in 1998, as was Ralph Hōtere in 2012.


  1. Takitaki ‘New Maori art exhibition mixes pride, power and fun.’ New Zealand Herald, 17 September 2001, (i tirohia i te 25 Pipiri 2014). Back
How to cite this page:

Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, 'Contemporary Māori art – ngā toi hōu - Contemporary Māori art in the 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 April 2024)

Story by Jonathan Mane-Wheoki, published 22 Oct 2014