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Robyn Kahukiwa "Power to Define" - 2009

Robyn Kahukiwa “Power to Define” Exhibition Dates: 16th September 2009 to 10th October 2009 Traditional Maori Art i.e. carving is largely unique, original ...

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Robyn Kahukiwa “Power to Define”

Exhibition Dates: 16th September 2009 to 10th October 2009

Traditional Maori Art i.e. carving is largely unique, original and has always centered around the human figure. Its content was usually narrative relating to legend and mythology. Maori commemorated and carved mythological gods, ancestors and leaders in magnificent style and form leaving a legacy which has gained international acclaim and recognition. Robyn Kahukiwa is an important South Pacific and Maori artist who has transformed ideals and narratives onto canvas in a vital and contemporary manner. Kahukiwa has pushed boundaries throughout her career often combining art with an underlying political theme. The celebration and empowerment of woman, the depiction of Maori women in mythology and more recently her “Superhero” (Hina) series enhance a lengthy catalogue of powerful and arresting images.

Since the 1970’s there has been an edge to Kahukiwa’s work where social, political and gender concerns are readily apparent. Urban dislocation, the ignorance of cultural traditions and loss of identity are all subjects which have been addressed by this matriarchal artist. These new works are no exception and Kahukiwa has completed two seminal works which depict and incorporate defining aspects and contentious issues within Maoridom and Aotearoa.

“Resistance/Te Tohenga” and “Power to Define” are two large stretched canvases which each measure three metres by two metres. The paintings took over 6 months to complete and are the central works in the exhibition. “The two large works are “theatrical” in that life-size characters are placed on a stage in front of the audience – the backdrop is Aotearoa New Zealand” says Kahukiwa. Many contentious topics are addressed in these paintings relating to identity, gender,the balance of power, historical and contemporary issues. These paintings refer to the beginning of colonialism, the signing of the Treaty, biculturalism and the adoption of western culture. (e.g. the foreground in Resistance/Te Tohenga depicts a small boy holding a greenstone mere and a cell phone). These works continue a series of major narratives such as “Whakapapa, Birth and Death” 2006, “Hikoi” 2004 and “Nga Whawharua” 2001.

An interesting aspect of Kahukiwa’s art has been the constant fluctuation from stylized or abstracted female forms to more realistic depictions of the figure. Traditional Maori art reveals abstracted forms (such as the Tiki figure) and Kahukiwa has developed both art forms with marked individuality. A new series of works which complement the large works is the “Haki” series, a group of flag paintings which depict stylized figures and manaia (heads) set against a backdrop depicting the Maori Flag (Tina Rangatira tanga). The strong design aspects of these paintings reflect traditional Maori carving designs inherent in the works and also the Maori Flag, the artist’s flag of choice in the current flag design debate. These compositions depict traditional aspects of Maori carving where the figures or heads are contorted or stylized, particularly in the lively work “Tahi”. Another shows the head in the sideways position, a position indicating attitude and strength. In this diptych the figures are reaching up to a traditional and important carving, the Waka Huia (feather box) a metaphor or symbol of their culture and heritage.



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