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Robyn Kahukiwa "Upoko Tapu/Sacred Head"

View the Virtual Online Gallery here Major Maori artist Robyn Kahukiwa’s new exhibition “Upoko Tapu” (Sacred Head) is extremely timely and poignant consider ...

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View the Virtual Online Gallery here

Major Maori artist Robyn Kahukiwa’s new exhibition “Upoko Tapu” (Sacred Head) is extremely timely and poignant considering recent exhibitions and developments involving the display of Maori portraiture.

Traditional Maori figurative art expressed in the form of carving was associated predominantly with the portrayal of the head or face.  These heads, large or small appeared along palisades, whares and house posts and were important symbols and artworks for the whole Marae and community. As the carvers seek to elicit expression with added design elements such as a tilted head, facial expressions and posture, Kahukiwa likewise reflects this tradition in her authentic “Upoko Tapu” series of portraits.

Similarly to traditional statues, meeting house or post carvings, the torsos here are posed with the head facing sideways or full frontal, yet the faces of the heads here are far more reflective and pensive rather than confrontational, particularly in the painting “Upoko Tapu”.  As a painter Kahukiwa invariably has more license to portray the sitter’s character, feeling and expression and this the artists conveys admirably with her unique stylized design of the figures and facial expressions in each work.   The headdress, predominately of huia feathers, accentuates the strong design and sculptural aspect of each painting, together with pounamu hei tiki and whakakai (earrings).  Kahukiwa says, “Tapu Head 2017 series is based on traditional Maori Tikanga (culture), where the head of a person is believed to be tapu or sacred.  I have used the huia feathers to emphasize the tapu of the head because huia feathers are taonga – treasures handed down from our ancestors”.  Detailed representation of tattoo is also an important element of both carving and painting and the rendering of the moko by Kahukiwa in each new work here is no exception.

In the “Art of Robyn Kahukiwa” Hinemoa Hilliard states…. “ (often) Kahukiwa creates an intimate reflection of herself as a Maori Woman.  The female form is often referred to as the “Whare Tangata” (house of the people), which acknowledges women as the bearers and nurturers of the next generation….the guiding principles that have helped steer her course have been the wish to uphold Maori cultural values, to uplift Maori people (women and children in particular) and to contribute to our understanding of the history and whakapapa of our country.” (1)

Robyn Kahukiwa is an important NZ Maori artist, with a body of work which has established and benchmarked an evolution in the development of traditional and contemporary Maori art.

(1)“The Art of Robyn Kahukiwa” Hinemoa Hilliard essay, p12, 16, Reed Publishing, 2005

Warwick Henderson, May 2017


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