Friday 8 July 2011

Taonga Māori in the British Museum

Today is the last day of Māori Language Week and I could not let my 101st blog be about anything other than one of the most important books published in New Zealand during 2011.

Taonga Māori in the British Museum is an emblem of scholarship that every reader of this spectacular book should be inspired by.

First published by the British Museum in 2010, and now republished by Te Papa Press, this book is a comprehensive collection catalogue prepared by Dorota Starzecka, Roger Neich and Mick Prendergrast. [ISBN 978 1 877385 76 6]

There is no comparable volume presenting Taonga Māori held in any other museum, let alone New Zealand museum. As such, the book is a tremendous challenge to local curators to work on a subsequent volume based on New Zealand collections. For a start, I would suggest publishing the Taonga Māori held by Te Papa or Auckland Museum.

This book will transform what we know about taonga not only because it gives visual access to the British Museum’s renowned collection, it has a catalogue that contains knowledge that has hitherto been inaccessible. All of the key pieces are illustrated with outstanding black and white plates and the colour plates are breathtaking.

From the author’s foreword: ‘This catalogue…contains all the information about the objects known to the authors at the time of writing.’

What a deal of new information this book contains! Professor Roger Neich has attributed many of the taonga to place and date. When he knows it, he also names tribe and, sometimes, the carver. As always with any project associated with Roger, the scholarship is exemplary. David Simmons’s wonderful knowledge is also included, which in so many cases, is complementary to Roger’s. Mick Prendergrast’s unequalled knowledge of the Māori textiles at the British Museum has ensured that the book gains much from his specialist knowledge.

This is a book that I am going to learn from every single week. I am going to start studying the textiles first.

When will we see a Taonga Māori textiles catalogue prepared by Dr Patricia Te Arepo, the doyenne of Maori textile scholarship. Patricia’s enthralling lectures are the fruit of her profoundly gifted and inspirational research. She is one of my favourite scholars anywhere!


Kay Neich said...

Cheers, Ron. I've been too scared to touch our own copy! Will buy a second. It's a shame Mick didn't even see the final draft. Dad did, and I helped him send in his last comment from the hospice. I am a very proud daughter! Thanks for your 101st post!

Awhina Tamarapa said...

Kia ora Ron! Enjoyed reading your blog. Te Papa will be releasing "Whatu Kākahu: Māori Cloaks", in October this year. This publication is a tribute to Māori cloak weavers and weaving as a treasured artform and practice. It will feature rarely seen cloaks in Te Papa's collection. Patricia Wallace is a contributing writer, along with Kahutoi Te Kanawa, John Turi-Tiakitai, Toi Te Rito Maihi, Maureen Lander and Margery Blackman. Aspects such as cultural values, customs, connections, innovation as tradition, ancestral science and the development of whatu (weft twining) are explored. The research and process for the book was supported by Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, the National Māori weavers collective, including contributions from senior weavers. The book is 208pp, over 300 colour and black and white images plus diagrams. The photographer is Te Papa's Norman Heke, I'm the editor. We hope that the readers will gain a greater insight into Māori culture and appreciate the skills and knowledge of our ancestors, also the benefits that science can bring to understanding the world of our ancestors. Ngā mihi!

Ron Brownson said...

I look forward to being one of the first textile curators to review Te Papa's book 'Whatu Kākahu: Māori Cloaks'.

This is going to be an important contribution to our knowledge of Maori textiles.

I congratulate my friends at Te Papa for assembling such the key experts. With Patricia Wallace, Kahutoi Te Kanawa, John Turi-Tiakitai, Toi Te Rito Maihi, Maureen Lander and Margery Blackman - this forthcoming book brings the key scholars together.

Te Papa leads the field in Polynesian textile scholarship at Aotearoa. No University in New Zealand is contributing the cuttting-edge scholarship that Te Papa is committed to bring forth.

Kahutoi Te Kanawa's work is defining international practice standards for the structural research of tribal textiles. Her community work is legendary.

Te Papa's recent Maori and Pacific textiles conference was at a scholarship level that exceeded anything offered by a New Zealand tertiary institution.

Why don't local Universities yet realise the significance of the Pacific's traditional/heritage arts as essential to their research?

One University site does:
The Centre for Pacific Studies at The University of Auckland.

Their recent ground-breaking symposiums on tapa, tatau and tufuga have been exceptional examples of the transfer of traditional knowledge into the contemporary academy.

Thanks so much to Walter Fraser and Nina Tonga for planning these extraordinary interactive research seminars.

Without Jim and Roger with us, we have to take on part of their work. They will not be lost to us if we live and express their commitment to Oceania's artists.

We are at a crucial moment in our direction towards this nation's Pacific future. We must speak louder and more effectively
about Aotearoa as an Island heart for Polynesia.

One of our most eloquent creative avatars, Rosanna Raymond, speaks frequently about how we must journey to the Eyeland. Like the arioi, Rosanna has always seen our culture's future.