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Kowhaiwhai exhibition explores traditional and contemporary notions of Maori art

Reviewed by John DalyPeoples

Ra Gossage,Kikorangi iti (Little Blue)

Kowhaiwhai

Tim Melville Gallery

Until March 12

Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples

Following on from the impressive “Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori Art” exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery last year the new exhibition Kowhaiwhai at the Tim Melville Gallery features  ten Māori artists providing their versions and responses to the notion of Kowhaiwhai.

Kowhaiwhai patterns are central imagery to much Maori art and are used in a variety of way which allows artists to address and expound on concepts of the land,  history, myth, genealogy and the natural world. The patterns can be used as decoration or as pure form in paintings and  design as well as integral to architecture.

The various designs of kowhaiwhai derive from the study of natural forms and often take their names from them. There are designs related to plant forms, wave shapes , the kaka beak, the shark and fish.

In this exhibition some of the artists use the design in a simple way while others have created more complex works.

Russ Flatt, “Aroha mai, aroha atu

The photographs of Russ Flatt seem to address the beginnings of  Kowhaiwhai designs seeing their patterns in the masses of flowers in “Kahikatoa” ($2750) and the shape and design of leaf patterns in the small photograph of “Aroha mai, aroha atu” ($4500). The larger work of “Aroha mai, aroha atu” which has what seems to be a partial  human / ethereal figure also refers to the idea that the kowhaiwhai designs embody spiritual connections.

Several works by Ra Gossage reference the traditional form of kowhaiwhai with “Kowhai ngutu kaka” – Kaka-beak Flower ($1950) and “Pohutukawa Flower” ($3250). Kura Te Waru-Rewiri also uses traditional forms but within a circular format such as “He kokonga o te ngakau” ($4750) which creates a more dramatic design.

Tracey Tawhiao, Light Beacon

Tracey Tawhiao also uses a version of traditional patterns but these are applied to glass bowls which she calls “Light Beacon” ($500 large and $350 medium). Where Tawhaio’s work appears to hold light the two ceramic works by  Maiai McDonald “Upu Pere” ($6750) and “Pouaka Iti” ($1500) could contain something darker more mysterious.

Lissy & Rudi Robinson-Cole, Poukaiawha (Hiwaiterangi)

The large, crocheted wool powhenua which greets the visitor at the entrance to the gallery by Lissie and Rudi Robinson-Cole is a brightly coloured feminist version of the pou, traditionally marking a place of transition This work which combines a female European traditional craft with the traditionally male carving practice is both playful and substantial.

They have also shown three photographs of  whakairo, abstract representations of faces in multi-coloured crocheted wool versions such as “Paki” ($1650). There are also the whimsical “Anahera Angel Wings” ($450 each) combining notion of European angels and taniwha.

Nigel Borell,

Nigel Borell’s work seems to be seeking a new way of expressing concepts using traces of kowhaiwhai design and areas of colour. This combination of the descriptive line of kowhaiwhai, landscape and abstract colour as in “E manu rere I” ($4250) creates ethereal images and enigmatic ideas.

Hiria Anderson, “Electric Kowhaiwhai – Teohaoturoa Whare on Turongo St” and “Abstract Koru & Lock  – Teohaoturoa Whare on Turongo St

Where Borell’s works may be  ethereal the paintings of  Hiria Anderson are embedded in the real world of the present. Her kowhaiwhai patterns are the wallpaper  framing a power socket in “Electric Kowhaiwhai – Teohaoturoa Whare on Turongo St” ($3000) and in “Abstract Koru & Lock  – Teohaoturoa Whare on Turongo St”  ($3000). In these she presents  the patterns as part of her lived environment.

By johndpart

Arts reviewer for thirty years with the National Business Review

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