The framing of Maori visual and material culture by predominantly western accounts highlights Europeans’ dominant position in New Zealand society and their role in constructing its history. According to Anderson, contemporary western accounts are very limited due to geographic restrictions, the shrouding of religion, the language barrier and a disinterest in domestic life (Anderson 123-133). Therefore, only a “partial sample” of Maori life can be extracted (Anderson 133). Maori art is also distinctly underrepresented and excluded from New Zealand’s art history. European art facilitated “the construction of the nationalist narrative” (Wheoki 6). Art prior to the arrival of Europeans is disregarded, and art after their arrival deemed insignificant. McEwan wrote, “it is the habit of ethnologists to study Maori art as if it had come to an abrupt end on the arrival of European settlers” (qtd. in Wheoki 6). This exclusion assumes that art is a purely European concept. It also allows justification of the events that occurred during the colonisation of New Zealand and its ‘uncivilised inhabitants’ (Wheoki 6). Even today, Maori art is generally confined to museums, rarely seen in galleries. This is because it is still regarded as solely ethnographic (Wheoki 8).
Emily Karaka’s 20th century painting ‘Local Government Tea Party’ refers to her involvement in a Waitangi Tribunal claim with her iwi. Harris describes it as “simultaneously confrontational and celebratory” (Harris 449). The chaotic style interspersed with symbols, words creates a sense of energy and hints at political protest, and the use of champagne glasses allude to an act of celebration. This piece links back to the Treaty of Waitangi and its subsequent events. For many Maori, this is a very sensitive time, loaded with a strong sense of injustice as the Crown forced the establishment of British sovereignty and took Maori land. The painting comments on the relationship with her iwi and Auckland’s local government but it also explores the deeper relationship between the Crown and Iwi- “a commentary of political hierarchy” (Harris 449). This shows that the discourse that occurred following the Treaty is still very much unresolved and continues to be of great importance to Maori.
Anderson, Atholl. “In the Foreign Gaze.” Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History. New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books, 2012. 132-162. Print.
Harris, Aroha. “Rights and Revitalisation.” Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History. New Zealand: Bridget Williams Books, 2012. 416-451. Print.
Karaka, Emily. Local Government Tea Party. 1997. Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland. Auckland Art Gallery. Regional Facilities Auckland. Web. 28 Aug. 2016.
Wheoki, Jonathan Mane. “Art’s Histories in Aotearoa in New Zealand.” Journal of Art Historiography 4 (2011): 1-12. PDF.