The Burke Museum is one of only four venues in the United States to have presented Toi Maori: The Eternal Thread, an exhibition celebrating Maori weaving. The exhibit highlights how the art form has developed, reasserted, and reinvented itself in recent years—from the finest traditional Maori kakahu (cloaks), kete (finely woven baskets), and whariki (floor mats), to outstanding contemporary pieces. Distinct from the better-known Maori arts of carving and ta moko (tattoo art), weaving is exclusively a women's art.
The Eternal Thread includes work from more than 40 Maori women artists from New Zealand who use their masterful weaving techniques to create beautiful and intricate objects. Loaned by the weavers themselves, the exhibit features nearly 100 pieces, ranging from magnificent feather and flax cloaks, to finely woven baskets, and outstanding pieces of contemporary fiber arts—woven from unusual materials such as emu bird feathers, copper, paper, and abalone shells.
The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. The cloaks and other woven arts created by Maori women are a reflection of their deep sense of spiritual connection to their history, to the land, to their ancestors, and their acknowledgment of the importance of all living things. While Maori oral history holds that they have been on the land from the beginning of time, contemporary research suggests they arrived by boat more than 1,300 years ago, after thousands of years journeying throughout Asia and the South Pacific.
The weaving of cloaks includes both prayer and ceremony as well as high artistic skill. A single cloak may take two years to weave and a lifetime to learn the techniques and rituals. Contemporary artists have begun to use non-traditional materials such as film strips and copper wire, in addition to natural fibers. The exhibit includes some innovative contemporary works as well as traditional.
The Eternal Thread was organized by the Pataka Museum of Arts and Culture in partnership with Toi Maori Aotearoa and Te Roopu Rananga Whatu o Aotearoa (the Maori weavers' collective) of New Zealand.