Māori artists exhibiting at Pīata Mai as part of Puaka Matariki celebrations in Ōtēpoti this year share the weight of understanding and preserving traditional Māori practices in Aotearoa today. In learning the rituals and knowledge of their tipuna, artists are being passed a taonga that needs to be treasured,understood, appreciated and shared if it is to withstand the effects of colonisation and the international influence of mass production.
Kai Tahu, Waitaha, Kati Mamoe, Te Ati Awa
Kaiwhakairo pounamu, silver smith and mixed media artist Jennifer Duff creates handmade, authentic mahi toi based on the traditional practices passed on to her from her father (Ewan Duff) and surrounding local artists. “I feel that traditional art forms, much like our language, are something that could easily be lost if we don’t frequently address and remind each other of our history and taonga,” says Jennifer.
With a large importation of Canadian jade saturating the local market, people are showing an interest in where materials are sourced and how to identify authentic pieces. “The authenticity of pounamu and its origin is important in the market today and people are interested in the variety of jade available in Te Waipounamu,” she says.
“The production of artworks of high quality is the only option to combat the plagiarism of our culture,” says Jennifer, who sees it as her responsibility as a Māori artist to create taonga to a high standard. “My mahi toi reflects my appreciation of my culture, my whānau and my surroundings and is the inspiration for my art.”
Waikato and Ngāti Maniapoto
The spiritual connection artists have with their work and the philosophy behind Māori designs are the two components that drive exhibiting artist, Heramaahina Eketone. The spiritual relationship between an artist and their work embeds itself in the traditional processes of creation and adds to the value of authentic mahi toi. Documentation of why particular Māori designs are used is often hard to find or understand.
The need to inject something of herself, her own personal mauri, into her work created a barrier for Heramaahina while apprenticing for tāmoko artist, Stu McDonald. “My lines can be perfect, but if my mauri is out of whack then I am not in the right place to practice,” she says.
The process of creation and providing a space for artists to practice is an important aspect of Heramaahina’s Kāwai Raupapa class taught at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa. Having a space free of the stresses of everyday life to focus on the meditative processes of mahi toi enables her students to work on and strengthen their own personal mauri. Art is purely a method and channel for self-expression.
Heramaahina’s obsession with Māori design and the philosophy behind it originated from a conversation with influential artist, Kahutoi Te Kanawa. “She is the one that first asked me why,what is the philosophy behind that design?”
The question of why stayed with Heramaahina as she moved through the different mediums of drawing, painting, weaving, carving, taniko, and tāmoko. Now with an understanding of a variety of mahi toi, Heramaahina is able to link commonalities of traditional Māori designs together.
Heramaahina encourages the preservation and conservation of designs and the philosophy behind them with her students. “I always ask them why and make sure they write their kōrero down with the art they make.”
Through research, understanding and documentation, Heramaahina works to preserve the traditional practices of mahi toi and help strengthen the foundation for future generations to build upon.
Nā Rewa Pene