Hana O’Regan in her book Ko Tahu, Ko Au : Kāi Tahu Tribal Identity (2000), writes that the experience of being tangata whenua is extremely variable and individual.
Being Māori in postcolonial Aotearoa exists at a messy intersection of tikanga, whakapapa, iwi/hāpu, physical appearance, language and cultural expression, and not necessarily all at the same time.
It is disingenuous to say that Māori visual culture has existed in a vacuum since the mid-nineteenth century, and throwing up a ring fence around it only results in unnecessary contradiction.
In this showing of contemporary Maori art, the odd work can easily be identified as ’Maori’. However many works might not fit the indigenous stereotype that some audiences have come to expect. It is my hope that this exhibition is at its very least an honest attempt at exploration of what I understand Maori art, and in particular Ngai Tahu art might be.
A collective should define and assert its cultural and identity boundaries. Ngāi Tahu culture and traditions help to define who we are and where we have come from as a people. Paradoxically, if I have been brought up with one certainty with regard to my Ngai Tahu heritage, then it is of its confident inclusiveness.
Press release courtesy Jonathan Smart Gallery.