By Peter Boome, MES Student.
About a year a half ago I received an interesting e-mail inviting me to participate in the 7th Indigenous Artist Gathering at Kokori Puri in New Zealand. I had never heard of the organization nor of the gathering. I had a lot of questions. I was intrigued by the possibility of going to New Zealand to make art and hang out with Maori people, so I wrote back and indicated I was interested but had a ton of questions before I committed.
When they answered my questions about the event I was really honored to have been invited. The event is a gathering of master indigenous artists from around the world who are invited to come together and simply make art. It is an invitation-only event and quite exclusive. In order to attend, an artist must be nominated, have their work screened and then except the invitation. The event is held every couple of years at different locations. A previous one was held in Hawaii, and the next one in 2016 will be held at the Evergreen Longhouse.
I still don’t know who nominated me, or who supported my nomination. I have my suspicions, but am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend such an amazing event.
I have a few friends in New Zealand who I met when they were in the states on artist visits of their own. I contacted them to see if it was feasible to come early to have a look around the country. It was. I arrived about a week early flying into Auckland. When you arrive you are instantly aware of two things.
One: The Lord of the Rings, and Hobbit movies were filmed here and they are a big tourist draw.
Two: Maoris have a large presence in the country.
My dear friends Henare and Tawera Tahuri picked me up the day after I arrived. They had a family event and were picking up Henare’s parents from the airport anyway so adding me to the mix wasn’t a big deal.
After touring around Auckland for an afternoon we picked up Henare’s parents at the airport and headed out of town. We went to Whangarei where we stayed at Henare’s uncle’s house. The floor plan was different than what you’d see here in the states. It was a two story house with the kitchen on the upper level. The interesting part about the upper level was that it was one large open multi-function room. The kitchen was at one far end with a large table, then a huge open space lined with several large couches. The reason for such a plan became apparent pretty quickly. Foam mats were brought out and laid down on the floor for us to sleep on.
Early the next morning I woke up because there were several people who had showed up for an impromptu family gathering. I counted 27 people at one time, milling around, speaking Maori and English interchangeably.
The family was preparing a meal, consisting of a giant homemade loaf of bread, some mussels, other seafood stuff, vegetables potatoes and probably other things I’m forgetting.
The older members of the family were sitting around the kitchen, butter knives in hand. They were shucking and sucking down mussels in large quantities. Of course they insisted that I join in. Now I’m not adverse to shellfish, but I prefer my shellfish cooked. These mussels were raw and considered a delicacy, so I shucked and sucked five or six which looked and tasted a lot like razor clams. I was pretty much musseled out, when they brought out more that had been basted in garlic and butter. Half a dozen later I was able to excuse myself and grab some bread. The reason I mention this is because this set the tone for the rest of the trip. I was fed, and fed, and fed some more. I ate so much seafood.
My second day in New Zealand saw us headed to Whangarei. There was a berry festival going on, so I was treated to a fun farmer’s market atmosphere, where I ran into one of the most famous Maori singers in New Zealand. Of course I didn’t know this and was speaking with her at some length; it was a true Forrest Gump moment.
That same day we went to a historic and famous “marae,” which is a Maori longhouse. The marae has a long, sad, and resilient history. It was built in the 1800’s and ended up in England for quite a while. It then ended up in a museum and was abused. During it’s time in a museum, the marae was too tall to fit, so the museum in its infinite wisdom decided to cut the lower foot and half off of the bottom of the entire building. Doing so was not only reckless towards the art of the marae, it is also very insulting. Long story, short the Maori were able to reacquire their marae and work towards restoring and repairing it.
We toured the marae and it was stunning. At the end they treated us to a light show which told the story of the marae (the meaning behind the carvings.) The light show was amazing in that it integrated the historic carvings while being an amazing light show at the same time.
At the end of the day we headed to Gisbourne where we spent two days. I was able visit the site were the movie “Whale Rider” was filmed. I also was able to attempt to surf.
After spending a couple of days in Gisbourne we headed back to Auckland to pick up another artist and head up to Kaikohe where some of the top indigenous artists from around the world were gathering at Kohewhata Marae for two weeks for collaborative artistic creativity as well as a huge exhibition of their works.
Somewhere in between Gisbourne and Auckland is a tiny place called Hobbiton. Yes, it is where parts of the movies were filmed. Yes, I stopped there. Yes, it is touristy. Yes, it is awesome!
Hobbiton is about as far from being a pretentious Hollywood theme park as you can get. Basically it’s just like walking through a hobbit village. All the plants in the gardens were real, complete with insects. All the tools were also real, it was simply amazing. There were no rides, nor people dressed as hobbits, wizards, elves or dwarves.
The road from Auckaland to Kaikohe is narrow and winding, there isn’t a lot of development outside of Auckland and soon you end up in small rural towns.
Kaikohe is one such small rural town. We didn’t actually stay in Kaikohe, instead we stayed at Kohewhata Marae, where several large tents were set up as sleeping quarters. Many people elected to sleep inside the Marae which made for very interesting sleeping arrangements, since every night a meeting of sorts took place in the Marae.
Like most Marae there are other permanent structures located on the same grounds. This marae had both a dining hall as well as shower / toilet facilities. The dining hall was your basic cafeteria set up and the showers were similar to a locker room shower.
In a grassy area there was a large tent set up which had tables and work areas set-up. These work areas were set aside for painters, carvers, and potters. Separate work areas were set up for jewelers, print makers, weavers, and Ta Moko artists (tattoos).
I had been invited as a painter and printmaker. I spoke with the printmakers and there was very limited space with only one press. I also spoke with the painters and there was plenty of canvases and paints and I was excited about doing some sort of collaboration and spoke with several artists about the idea. For some reason I was really drawn to the carving area. While not officially invited as a carver, I had brought my carving tools and wanted to learn more about Maori carving. I ended up spending all of my time with the carvers. We worked on a couple of large sculptural pieces that took a lot of time. I also carved several small objects as well.
The carving techniques of the Maoris are very different from the techniques used in the Pacific Northwest. While we both historically and continue to use adzes, and have adopted some of the same power tools, the similarities end there. While in the Northwest we use bent knives to do much of our detail and texture work, the Maoris use gouges which they call chisels, which they push by hand or hit with various mallets. This makes sense because the wood the Maoris use, which they call timber, is extremely hard. It is much harder than any of the tree species that we carve here in the Pacific Northwest. The wood they use also happens to contain a high oil content, which means there is no need to oil the finished product. Pretty cool stuff, if you are a carver.
I wasn’t able to get to all the collaborations that I wanted to get to, but I was able to make some good connections. We will work on collaborative work over time, which is much easier to do with painters than with carvers since you can ship a canvas back and forth.
We didn’t spend all of our time working. We also went on a few field trips. For one such field trip we went to the Waipoua Forest where some of the largest and oldest remaining Kauri trees in New Zealand remain. After which we went to a Maori nursery and forest where they are working hard to replace and rebuild the historic forests with indigenous trees and plants.
Another field trip I was lucky enough to go on was an exclusive one to the War Memorial Museum in Auckland, which is something like our Smithsonian museum. I went with the carvers and was able to look at a number of carvings in the archives. This was pretty exciting and quite amazing.
It wasn’t all educational, of course. At night we had the option of going to a local hot spring, which smelled of sulfur. The hot springs were owned by the local Maori tribe and were simply amazing. They weren’t over-developed and fancy like ones you would see here in the States. These were specifically for local use and enjoyment, and not designed as tourist attractions.
Since I have gotten back I have been asked more questions about Ta Moko than anything else. Ta Moko is the Maori form of tattoo. There are a couple of basic things to know about Ta Moko. First is that it is a distinct art form with long history and tradition. The second is that most Ta Moko artists use an electric gun, but many also use the traditional chisel or ulu (“tap tap”).
There were several Ta Moko artists at the gathering and many of the 123 artists got some type of ink during their time there. I had arranged for an amazing Ta Moko artist in Hamilton to work on me, so I didn’t have plans to get moko at the gathering. Just because I didn’t have plans doesn’t mean it didn’t happen! I ended up getting a large calf piece done by one of the carvers. Yes it hurt. A lot.
There were too many amazing things to list or write about here without this blog turning into a book. New Zealand is an amazing and beautiful country to visit. The food is wonderful, that is, if you like GMO-free food, lots of seafood, and vegetables. If you like tattoos, I can think of no better place to go, because there is a lot of ink in New Zealand.