Tārai Kōrero Toi : articulating a Māori design language : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Fine Arts at Massey University, Palmerston North, Aotearoa New Zealand
The thesis is divided into three parts: Toi Runga (Part 1), Toi Raro (Part 2) and Te Hononga Toi Māori (Part 3). Toi Runga and Toi Raro allude to Te Kauae Runga (the upper jaw) and Te Kauae Raro (the lower jaw), a Māori wānanga system associated with the Wairarapa wānanga (held in the nineteenth century at Greytown) that divided knowledge into celestial and terrestrial knowledge, that is, the knowledge of the gods on the one hand and knowledge of humankind on the other.
In the case of the thesis, the division refers to the two types of knowledge explored within the thesis. Toi Runga (Part 1) examines knowledge that is derived from a review of ‘old’ knowledge associated in particular with pare (door lintels). This review of customary Māori carving practice, and subsequent pare analyses, resulted in the development of a Māori design language pertinent to contemporary Maori design practice. In Toi Raro (Part 2), the ‘new’ knowledge (Māori elements and principles of design) derived from the analysis of ‘old’ knowledge, were then applied to three design projects within a contemporary context.
Te Hononga Toi Māori (Part 3) was developed by the author as a reference for Māori terms, the Māori design elements and principles, and customary Māori surface pattern. When used in tandem with Toi Runga (Part 1) and Toi Raro (Part 2), Te Hononga Toi Māori (Part 3) acts as quick reference to understanding Māori terms and relevant design terminology. Māori terms are introduced using a convention of Māori term followed by the English translation in brackets and thereafter only the Māori term is used.
This research explores eighteenth and nineteenth century Māori carving and more specifically, pare (door lintel). The goal of this research is to develop design guidelines for Māori designers, based on customary models. Consequently, the research seeks to answer the research question: how might the visual language and tikanga (conventions, protocols, customary practice) of customary Māori carving inform contemporary Māori design practice?
This research topic responds to the dearth of Māori informed guidelines for designers, both Māori and non-Māori, when working with Māori content, form and imagery. In view of the increased use of Māori iconography in design industries both locally and globally, there is a need to develop guidelines that help maintain the integrity and intent of the Māori form and content, while enabling designers to express culturally significant messages. As a project by Māori, developed in response to Māori needs¸ the notion of tinorangātiratanga (sovereignty) is reaffirmed. While the customary, and to some extent contemporary Māori arts are helpful, the connection of design with commerce also highlights the need to develop guidelines that recognise this distinct crossover between culture and commerce. Thus, the Māori elements and principles of design have been articulated through an extensive literature review of eighteenth and nineteenth century Māori carving, and a linear diagrammatical analysis of pare informed by elements of Māori visual culture and epistemology with European design concepts and ideas about art.
The interdisciplinary nature of this project also demanded an innovative framework and methodology. This resulted in the development of the linear diagrammatical method for analysing carving, which combined mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) and knowledge about important cosmo-genealogical narratives, with western design conventions. This intersection between two-world views, that of design and that of customary Māori arts, is at the core of this thesis. It is critical to remember that the Māori terms developed to name the Māori principles of design evolve out of a conceptual engagement with the terminology and access to the language expertise of Dr Darryn Joseph. The terms therefore are not customary, but modern terms developed specifically for this study.
The elements and principles of Māori design were trialled through three design projects, a design exhibition Ko Aotearoa Tēnei: This is New Zealand, a Māori alphabet block set, and Whakarare, a Māori typeface design. Each of these offered insights into how the Māori elements and principles could be applied within contemporary design practice. At the same time, these projects demonstrated some of the limitations of this customary-informed approach to contemporary design. Importantly, these
projects established how the Māori elements and principles could potentially allow designers to create multi-layered works that express Māori ideas, and Māori design sensibilities, in the absence of literal Māori iconography in a variety of design contexts. The Māori elements and principles bring Māori design closer to Te Ao Māori through the connection of design with customary Māori arts practice.