Nau Mai Place – Māori Art Collective


Until 4 October 2018, CAN Creative Arts Napier
By Tryphena Cracknell

Nau Mai Place features artworks from a group of ten local artists: Miria Pohatu, Aana Adsett, Rose Brown, Marewa King, Mary Bagnall, Michelle Mataira, Hiwirori Maynard, Jovanah Abraham, Michelle Nichols and Shanon Hawea.

The title, Nau Mai Place, welcomes visitors into the space. It could also be regarded as a bilingual riff on the idiomatic phrase used to demonstrate that a person knows where they stand socially, and which people are more important than them. That the artists do know their place in relation to their shared cultural membership to te ao Māori is immediately obvious. This collective foundation draws strongly from Māori iconography and symbolism, representing familiar narratives peppered with references to contemporary cultural realities.

As the kaupapa, or uniting concept, the artists have considered an existential, somewhat esoteric inquiry: “What have Māori used to help navigate ‘the forest of life’?” Each artist responds to this by presenting aspects they consider essential to Māori well-being – ancestral connections and knowledge, whanaungatanga with earth, sky and all between.

Mainly paintings, although there are also prints and use of mixed media, the works vary in scale and approach. Some are formal and tightly structured, others more free-form. Not all of the works are for sale which could frustrate visitors intending to purchase. Generally, there are rich synergies of colour and pattern, best seen in Michelle Mataira’s Tukurua Series, although a few of the artists have used a stricter palette, like Aana Adsett’s monochromatic Rīpeka.

Hiwirori Maynard’s Whakatangata Kia Kaha, an intricately kōwhaiwhai detailed guitar, fresh from MTG’s He Manu Tīoriori exhibition, is an absolute stand-out, as is Miria Pohatu’s beautifully balanced Kua Tātaihia ki Taku Tinana.

In a brief introductory statement state their hope for the exhibition to resonate with a Māori audience. As a member of that audience, I certainly felt an instant emotional connection and sense of familiarity, but I also left with a few burning questions – Ko wai koe? No hea koe? I wanted to know more about the artists, their background and familial connections. What brought the group together – are they all Toimairangi alumni? Members of local arts collective, Iwitoi Kahungunu?

I also wanted to connect more deeply with some of the stories underpinning the artworks – the decision to include a particular medium, or how the work connected to the artist’s own ‘forest of life’ and essential factors that impact on their own well-being as Māori.

 

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