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Contemporary Maaori art showcased in new exhibition

An exhibition of artworks that bridge the divide between traditional Maaori cultural skills and modern art practice opens at Waikato Museum on 28 November and is a North Island exclusive.

Waitohu features a diverse range of artworks by 13 contemporary Maaori artists and explores the different styles and visual languages of carving marks, shadow and pattern.

The free exhibition has been curated by Milford Galleries Dunedin Director Stephen Higginson. Waitohu celebrates Maaori identity and its distinct voices, captured in photography, painting, glass, ceramics, mixed media and sculpture.

It examines whakapapa and tradition linked by the presence of light – a core spiritual concept in Maaori culture. Light is a major element in many of the pieces, from the geometric patterns and illusionary depths of Israel Birch’s hanging sculptures to Robert Jahnke’s installation, Te tomokanga o te ua, which will be the first thing visitors see.

In a different take on light and darkness, Lonnie Hutchinson acknowledges a head comb’s traditional status as a venerated object, using silhouetted patterns and shadow to adorn it with the outlined incisions of birds in flight.

Other works connect the physical and spiritual worlds, including Baye Riddell’s three-sided terracotta sculptures featuring an array of carving patterns and stylised koru designs and Peata Larkin’s lightboxes referencing weaving patterns.

Waitohu also includes works by Brett Graham, Chris Bailey, Lisa Reihana, Reuben Paterson, Darryn George, John Walsh, Chris Heaphy and Mike Crawford.

Waikato Museum Director Cherie Meecham said Waitohu offered a rare opportunity to experience so many high-calibre Maaori artists in one place.

“This exquisite exhibition of contemporary Maaori art is definitely worth the drive to Hamilton,” Meecham said. “It’s a spectacular celebration of Maaori talent and brings visibility to the impressive calibre of contemporary Maaori artists for our visitors to embrace and champion.”

Waitohu runs from 28 November 2020 until 8 February 2021, daily from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free.

On the banks of the Waikato River, in the heart of Hamilton’s CBD, Waikato Museum’s 13 galleries feature more than 25 new exhibitions and 100 public events annually. Details of all exhibitions are available at

Image: Detail, Whakapapa Get Down on Your Knees 1, Reuben Paterson, 2009, glitter and synthetic polymer on canvas.

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