He Maumaharatanga - A Woven Tribute

He Maumaharatanga - A Woven Tribute.
He Maumaharatanga - A Woven Tribute is an exhibition of contemporary Maori weaving by Kohai Grace (N

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He Maumaharatanga - A Woven Tribute is an exhibition of contemporary Maori weaving by Kohai Grace (Ngati Porou, Ngati Toa, Te Atiawa, Ngati Raukawa) and the 1920s archival film which inspired her work.

He Maumaharatanga - A Woven Tribute is an exhibition of contemporary Maori weaving by Kohai Grace (Ngati Porou, Ngati Toa, Te Atiawa, Ngati Raukawa) and the 1920s archival film which inspired her work. Consisting of a series of kakahu (cloaks), kete, and film, Kohai Grace describes her work as “bringing together the old and the new, in celebration of weaving of the past, present and future and its’ continual evolvement as an art form.”

Alongside Grace’s weaving, He Maumaharatanga - A Woven Tribute features the film material that fueled Grace’s research of traditional weaving and inspired the work in the exhibition.

He Pito Whakaatu I Te Noho A Te Maori I Te Awa O Whanganui: Scenes Of Maori Life On The On The Whanganui River is a film shot by James MacDonald in 1921. A renowned ethnographic and government film maker, McDonald’s camera captured footage of the dyeing and weaving of harakeke (flax). Two years later in 1923 Sir Apirana Ngata sent a delegation from the Dominion Museum to visit the East Coast to obtain records of his Ngati Porou people. Once agin it was MacDonald who captured a valuable record of traditional weaving in what became the film He Pito Whakaatu I Te Noho A Te Maori I Te Tairawhiti: Scenes Of Maori Life On The East Coast.

Grace says, “The screening of the films within the gallery space becomes an integral part of the exhibition, bringing together the old and historic, along with new interpretations.”

Some of the 'new interpretations' are made of white plastic strapping, described by Grace as “symbolic of the cloak, but also of the poupou (ancestral posts) of the wharenui. The use of plastic strapping and mainly colours of black and white to create the exhibits was to portray a physical likeness to film strips and the films.”

Grace began weaving at the Wellington Arts Centre in 1986. In 1990 she was commissioned by the National Library of New Zealand to produce tukutuku (woven panels) for the Nga Kupu Korero exhibition which toured the country and focused on issues surrounding the Treaty of Waitangi, 150 years after its signing. This followed with a seven year project alongside her whanau of Hongoeka Marae, making tukutuku panels for their wharenui, Te Heke Mai Raro, which opened in 1997.

Grace was part of the curatorial team and an exhibiting artist for Toi Maori's weaving exhibition Te Aho Mutunga Kore, The Eternal Thread which first opened at Pataka – Porirua museum of arts and culture in 2004,  prior to touring the USA during 2005 - 2006. She recently returned to the United States to take up the position of artist in residence at the de Young Museum in San Francisco where she worked alongside Native American Mono weavers.

Although Grace’s preference is to work with customary materials, especially muka (flax fibre), a trademark of hers is to mix natural materials with synthetic materials such as copper,  wire and plastic where she may be trying to get a certain effect.

Just as Grace’s work combines the old with the new, Exhibitions Manager Mark Williams says Grace’s work highlights the usefulness of the Archive’s collection. “It’s fantastic to have someone like Kohai present a show at the NZFA, it really shows what we can learn from the past and how we can think about the present.”

Grace is optimistic about the continuing interest in weaving amongst modern audiences and her role to play in its future.  "Our weaving traditions have survived this far, and there is a growing interest and appreciation for the weaving. As long as weavers continue to produce, create and teach others, it will never be lost. I feel it is unfinished work unless it is passed on."

He Maumaharatanga - A Woven Tribute has been made possible with the kind assistance and support of Te Waka Toi, Creative New Zealand.

Written by

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

12 May 2009

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision is the operating name for the New Zealand Archive of Film, Television and Sound Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua Me Ngā Taonga Kōrero.