The Spiritual Link
"The kakahu (cloaks) are part of us and we of them. Together we can enter new and exciting spaces. Our ancestors walk with us as we travel with themthat is what this exhibition is about." —Waana Davis, Chair, Toi Maori Aotearoa (Maori Arts New Zealand)
Toi Maori: The Eternal Thread features the work of contemporary and traditional Maori weavers. The spiritual dimension of weaving is vital within Maori culture. Maori weaving is full of symbolism and hidden meanings, embodying Maori spiritual values and beliefs. The cloaks, or kakahu, are stunning art works, yet are also powerful symbols of spiritual leadership, both of yesterday and today. Kakahu encircle the wearer with honor, and are worn at important occasions in public and private life, including graduations, funerals, and ceremonial processions.
Kakahu are distinguished by their form of decoration. Kaitaka are honey-colored fiber cloaks, decorated with a geometric taniko border on the sides. Korowai are cloaks whose outer surface is decorated with long dark cords made from hand-rolled muka (flax fiber). Kahu huruhuru, cloaks ornamented with feathers, are highly prized. Today, cloaks continue to be woven by hand, through a traditional technique called whatu, a method of finger-weaving that uses neither needle nor loom.
Kete are baskets that indicate prestige. Woven through a traditional technique called raranga, widespread across the Pacific Islands, kete provide evidence of the extraordinary virtuosity of Maori weavers. Patterns are often associated with particular extended families (whanau) and tribes (iwi), and may abstractly reference natural elements such as creatures and plants of the sea or forest.
A younger generation of artists, well-tutored in traditional techniques, is creating innovative contemporary work that improvises upon the conventional conceptual foundations and materials of Maori weaving.
Some artists use non-traditional materials such as the builder's paper used by Lonnie Hutchinson to make cut-out cloaks, the fine copper wire used by Diane Prince in her exquisitely delicate cloak, or the Plexiglas and wire used by Christina Wirihana in her work titled Whakapaatari, to extend the boundaries of weaving. Others blend non-traditional and traditional materials and techniques, often drawing inspiration from the land. Kohai Grace uses muka (flax fiber) and copper to create cloaks that evoke the birds that fly around her home, while Maureen Lander bases her illuminated maro (apron) of split flax fiber, nylon fishing line, and florescent paint upon a waterfall in the Hokianga region.
Collectively, these works engage in lively dialogue with the ancestors, traditional weavers, and the contemporary art world. The outstanding contemporary work of today demonstrates the ongoing vitality of Maori weaving.