He tataitanga ahua toi : the house that Riwai built, a continuum of Māori art

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Massey University
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Prior to the 1950s, visual culture within tribal environments could be separated into customary and non-customary. In the early 19th century, customary visual culture maintained visual correspondence with prior painted and carved models of the pre-contact period. In the latter part of the 19th century, non-customary painted and carved imagery inspired by European naturalism informed tribal visual culture. This accommodation of European imagery and practice was trans-cultural in its translation to tribal environments. In the 1960s, an innovative trans-customary art form evolved outside tribal environments, fusing customary visual culture and modernism. This trans-customary art form, which maintained visual empathy with customary form of the 19th century, was introduced into the tribal environment, initially, in a painted mural in 1973, and subsequently in a multimedia mural in 1975. In 1989 and 1990, this trans-customary Maori art practice informed the art of the Taharora Project at Mihikoinga marae in Ohineakai. In this Project, the 1970s transcustomary Maori art precedents were extended with non-customary form and practice. The thesis employs tataitanga kaupapa toi as a paradigm for Maori cultural relativity and relevance en-framing form, content and genealogy. Annexed to this paradigm are a range of methods: a tataitanga reo method for interpreting Maori language texts; a tataitanga korero method, conjoining a kaupapa Maori and an iconographic approach, for interpreting meaning in tribal visual culture, and a tataitanga whakairo method, incorporating stylistic analysis as formal sequence, semiology and intrinsic perception, for analysing a continuum of stylistic development from the Rawheoro School of carving to the Taharora Project. The Taharora Project constitutes the case study where tribal visual culture and contemporary art within tribal environments are contextualised in a trans-cultural continuum. The critical question that underpins this thesis is how do form, content and genealogy contribute to art that resonates with Maori? The thesis concludes that trans-cultural practice in contemporary art can resonate with Maori if the art maintains visual correspondence or visual empathy with customary tribal form. In their absence, cultural resonance can be achieved through a grounding of the content, informing the art, in a paradigm of Maori cultural relativity and relevance, a tataitanga kaupapa toi. The genealogy of the artist is a further determinant for resonance.
Maori art, Maori wood carving, Whakairo, Whare whakairo, Kōrero nehe, Mahi toi, Maori sculpture, Maori painting