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Story: New Zealand culture overseas

From the late 18th century Māori taonga (treasures) were taken overseas – even meeting houses sometimes travelled to Europe for display in exhibitions. Later New Zealand cultural exports were as diverse as Māori showbands, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and contemporary art in the Venice Biennale.

Story by Nancy Swarbrick
Main image: Flight of the Conchords on The Simpsons, 2010

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New Zealand culture has been published, performed, exhibited and sold overseas since the late 18th century. Expatriate artists such as writer Katherine Mansfield, artist Len Lye and opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa became well known in other countries. Many other artists kept living in New Zealand yet were successful overseas.

Government’s role

Since the 19th century the government has promoted New Zealand culture internationally. Traditional and modern art, Māori performing arts and New Zealand music have been on show at international exhibitions. In the 2000s Manatū Taonga the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and Creative New Zealand ran programmes to increase New Zealand’s cultural presence overseas.

Art, craft and design

From the late 18th century Māori artefacts such as carvings were sought by collectors. Despite a 1901 law to restrict their export, they were often taken overseas. Many were still in overseas museums and collections in the 2000s. Māori taonga (treasures) were displayed at international exhibitions from the 1850s, and came to be seen as symbols of New Zealand. Later, European-style artworks depicting the country’s natural wonders were shown in exhibitions to encourage tourism.

In the late 1940s the External Affairs Department developed an art collection to display at overseas posts and promote New Zealand art and culture.

The Te Māori exhibition toured the United States in 1984.

Music

Kapa haka (Māori performing arts) groups toured overseas from the 19th century. In the 2000s they continued to perform around the world, and represented New Zealand at cultural and sporting events.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra first toured overseas in 1974. It built a worldwide following through its recordings. Jazz musicians, Māori showbands and rock bands have all showcased New Zealand culture internationally.

Dance

In the 1980s the Royal New Zealand Ballet began to tour overseas, as did contemporary dance groups.

Literature

In the 19th century accounts of New Zealand, Māori oral traditions and fiction were published in London. Over time, some New Zealand writers became well known overseas through New Zealand publishing enterprises. New Zealand settings were often an attraction for international readers. In 2012 New Zealand was the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Theatre and film

New Zealand plays and performers have won awards and recognition at international arts festivals such as those in Edinburgh. From the 1970s films and television series showing New Zealand landscapes and culture found world audiences. Internationally successful feature films with strong New Zealand themes have included The piano, Whale rider and Boy.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'New Zealand culture overseas', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/new-zealand-culture-overseas (accessed 19 November 2017)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 22 Oct 2014