He Wāhine, He Tapu = The Sanctity of Women : an exhibition report presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Māori Visual Arts at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This report contextualises the exhibition, He Wāhine, He Tapu. My research into puhi (chief’s
daughter) and mana wāhine (women of status), along with the methodology and practice which
produced this exhibition is discussed. The literature review covers the status of Puhi and other
female leaders in traditional Māori society, in particular, the sacredness of the whare tangata (house
of humankind, or womb), linking wāhine (Māori women) to the atua wāhine (goddesses) of Māori
creation stories. This body of work explores notions of tapu (sacred or restricted) and noa (normal or
free from restriction), identity, the complementary nature of the sexes in traditional society and the
impact of colonisation. The underpinning questions are; who is the puhi? What role did she play?
What makes her special? And where is she today?
The review of artists examines the history of portraiture and early photography, particularly that of
Māori, as well as links to contemporary artists working in this genre.
I have used Manawa Kāi Tahu, a cultural, social, environmental and economical framework
as a tool for the analytical component, grounding this practice in Māori philosophy, values and
tikanga (protocol), and locating this work as culturally relevant within Te Ao Māori (the Māori world
view). The six values are – Tohutanga (capability and development), Rangatiratanga (selfdetermination
and upholding the integrity of others), Kaitiakitanga (stewardship and enhancing
resources), Manaakitanga (hospitality, health and safety and wellbeing of self and others), and
Whanaungatanga (kinship and communication). The exhibition is also positioned within He
Tātaitanga Kaupapa āhua toi; a Māori art continuum (Jahnke 2006), using the classes of customary,
non- customary and trans-customary art. How this body of work aligns with the categories of noncustomary
and trans-customary is also discussed.