Art · Māori · New Zealand · PLD

Thinking About Art: Cultural Studies Assessment

In this post I am completing an assessment essay for Lifeway College. In this is essay I will be comparing and contrasting one artwork each by two New Zealand artists: Chris Booth & Robyn Kahukiwa.

I chose these two pieces for a variety of interconnected reasons. I first was thinking about the ‘art’ of korowai or kahu huruhuru (feathered cloak) following the commissioning this year by my college of two such cloaks for senior prize giving (eg Dux). I had been aware of the work of tohunga raranga (master weaver) Diggeress Te Kanawa from Te Kuiti following her death. After initial research I ‘discovered’ the collaboration with Chris Booth on his sculpture Nga Uri O Hinetuparimaunga, 2005 in Hamilton Gardens.

I had watched the erection of Nga Uri during a time of travelling to and from Hamilton as a multi-media tutor and then during my Teacher Post Grad training. Through the subsequent years I have explored with my kids up-close and in-passing the stones. It has become on of my favourite public installations, and as such perfect for this investigation.

Keeping with the idea of the kakahu I then explored further and kept noticing references and images of the work of Robyn Kahukiwa as used in popular culture (ie book covers, and posters). I’ve enjoyed her work for a while having seen her exhibition Wahine Toa: Women in Mäori myth during my first year at Uni in 1984, and having purchased her collaboration with Roma Potiki, Oriori: a Māori Child is born – from Conception to Birth, 1999, at the birth of my son 9 years ago. Instead of going with a book illustration, however, I went back to one of Kahukiwa’s iconic pieces Tihe Māuri Ora, 1990.

Assessment #1: “Explore differences and similarities, contrast and compare the two works”

Chris Booth

Nga Uri O Hinetuparimaunga (detail)

Nga Uri O Hinetuparimaunga (detail), 2005. Chris Booth. Stone and steel, 21 elements, 4200 mm x 100,000 mm x 1500 mm. One of a series of “Earth Blankets” created in collaboration with Diggeress Te Kanawa.

Robyn Kahukiwa

Tihe Mauri Ora

Tihe Mauri Ora, 1990. Robyn Kahukiwa. Oil on Unstretched Canvas. 2100 mm x 3580 mm. The Fletcher Trust Collection.

Chris Booth (1948 – )

Born in Kerikeri, Chris Booth trained at ILAM at the University of Canterbury, between 1967-68. In 1968-70 he traveled to study sculpture with prominent sculptors in Europe such as Barbara Hepworth, Denis Mitchell and John Milne, England and Quinto Ghermandi, Italy. He has specialised in Earth sculptures around the world ever since.

Nga Uri O Hinetuparimaunga, 2005 by Chris Booth, is placed besides one of the entrances to the Hamilton City Gardens next to a busy roundabout, and thus most will just glimpse the work as they pass by. The installation works well in this context, the scale deliberately allowing for the work to be seen in this manner due to its physically massive size and ease of observation at a glance. The forms are bold and well defined – clean, vertical lines assembled in small groups create strong verticals set on a long uncluttered grassy site.

The title for the complete sculpture, Nga Uri O Hinetuparimaunga (group belonging to Hinetuparimaunga, the “Maid-of-the-mountain” a mate of Tane) was given at the official handover ceremony on 5th april, 2005 by local kaumatua. The kakahu was titled Te Kahu o Papatuanuku (Precious gift of Papatuanuku), on 3rd April, 2005 by Ngati Wairere Kaumatua, Te Whare and Maniapoto Kuia, and Digger Te Kanawa.

Three ancient symbols were translated into stone from a celebrated Korowai woven in thread by Digger Te Kanawa. they are: Nihoniho, Poutama and Toorakaraka.

Robyn Kahukiwa (1940 – )

Conceived in Aotearoa, but born in Australia, Kahukiwa ‘returned’ to New Zealand at the age of 19. Kahukiwa’s iwi affiliations are Ngati Porou, Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, Ngati Hau, Ngati Konohi and Whanau-a-Ruataupare. While living with her young family in Greymouth in 1967, Kahukiwa began painting. A self-taught figurative painter (although with commercial artist experience from Australia) she taught art at Mana College in Porirua from 1972 to 1982.

She is broadly exhibited and her work is held in many major galleries, and private collections throughout New Zealand and the Pacific. She is also an established children’s book writer and illustrator.

Kahukiwa’s paintings are often strongly political, they “address the double oppression of Maori women by the social structures of the dominant Pakeha culture and the changes in Maori traditions. For this reason, she often paints strong Maori women who can act as role models for the younger generation.”


Nga Uri O Hinetuparimaunga

The work’s huge abstracted structure comes from twenty-one columns formed from local Hinuera stone, and inspired by eroded ignimbrite escarpment formations found in the Waikato region. It is monumental; the symbolic erosion created by leaving the quarried edges and cutting holes of the material, mirrors the thousands of years of erosion that formed much of the land of the Waikato region, caused by the Waikato river. The area of the Hamilton Gardens sits beside the river, and the stone is symbolic of the earth. The structures stand on their own merits, but also support and give form to the cloak or kakahu Te Kahu o Papatuanuku.

The kakahu (formed by 12,000 quartz pebbles from Southland and 1000 greywacke pebbles from Kaiauai’s) draped over five stone columns is the main focal point of the work. The “lighter” ignimbrite stones stand out against the secondary cloak of green created by the bordering trees. To quote from Booth’s siteThe need to symbolically protect five of the hinuera columns with an earth blanket or Kakahu, a protective woven pebble cloak, came to me from witnessing too much local, national and international disrespect for mother earth. Along with protection, the Kakahu also symbolically honours the wonder of mother earth.

A mass of smooth and rough: strong chiseled up-rights, with broad flat planes in quarried stone representing the earth; and the rounded pebbles creating a monotone (black and white) textures weave in the form of a Kakahu symbolizing protection of the earth. Added to these, the wire holding the pebbles together, thin and shiny. Altogether verticals, horizontals, flats and textures, caped by graceful curves, and stone against grass with glimpses of sunlight a midst the shadows of the Kakahu.

Nga Uri o Hinetuparimaunga, Detail

Tihe Mauri Ora

Kahukiwa’s central stylistic influence since the early 1980s has been the Maori customary art form of whakairo or carving, a past time traditionally restricted to being the reserve of men. Here the paint is applied using several techniques that in part mimic the a three-dimensional feel: including smooth flat colour without tone, and then outlining it; the use of broken-up brush-work; and light colours over dark. In some parts of the painting the forms are sketchy and almost transparent, outline drawings in similar colours to the background.

The painting is large, the figures life size. The two larger characters are arranged vertically in a horizontal row across the painting and use up most of the foreground space. The forms are round and simple, the face, limbs and body of the female figure almost flat. Detail is added to some figures through the addition of red and black outlining. There is variety in the sizes and ages of the figures. The two main foreground figures (woman and taniwha) are linked by having an identical shape and pose. The figures in the background lying down looks more lifelike with the addition of shadow and detail to the face and body, and foreshortening of the arms and shoulders. Along with the smaller figures behind and in front contrast with the text and the vertical figures, and create a sense of depth. The space surrounding the figures is filled with textural strokes of paint which create kowhaiwhai and other Maori motifs.

The largest characters on the left in the foreground are counter balanced by ‘hand written’ lettering in the form of the title of the artwork on the right – Tihe Mauri Ora. There is further text in a bold handwriting about the painting giving the almost cartoon effect of the characters’s talking to each other.

Bold strokes of paint towards top look like flames in the sky. These broken brushstrokes help to create depth through layering, and the addition of light colours over dark makes the form look more three dimensional, like the figure lying in the background.

Comparison and Context 

Both artists appear to be working within two cultures – Maori and the European.

In both works modern materials and a style (Booth’s marks of metal on stone, and binding wire; Kahukiwa’s a deliberately rough, graffiti-like style, mixed with hints of Gauguin or Riviera’s Mexican ‘Protest’ murals); are blended with the traditional (Booth’s ancient symbols ‘woven’ into Korowai; Kahukiwa’s paint applied the way her ancestors carved, simulating the ridges, spirals and notches of the poupou, serpentine figures, resembling the hei-tiki complete with claw-like fingers, and the elongated ovoid head with oval-shaped eyes and mouth to match).

Land is a significant part of Maori identity, all the more since the arrival of Europeans and the sale or confiscation of large areas of Maori land. These artists have worked throughout a significant era in the history of New Zealand in the later part of the 20 C. In 1990, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the looking at decades old land grievances by the Waitangi Tribunal brought these issues firmly to public awareness.

For each artist (specifically stated here by Booth, and implied by Kawakiwa) the land itself was now personified as Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother. In Mauri Ora! a young Maori solo mother struggling with social stigma has a logical connection with images of mareikura or traditional female supernatural beings. For Booth the supernatural female provides a protective cowl for all, strength is central, protection implied.

Booth’s colour wheel is muted with subdued shades of dark and light, black white and sand: the natural, ‘found’ materials. Kawakiwa deploys a more extensive butstill subdued color wheel, powered by a mass of red: bloodlines and blood ties, the human.

Booth is both stoic, grounded in his use of old materials and modernist in his combinations of new tools and materials. Kahukiwa revitalises the expressionist tradition incorporating the collage techniques of commercial art: energetic brushstrokes mimicing the lettering on advertisements, and the scrawled slogans of graffiti and protest, her work full of melodramatic action.

Both reaffirm the themes of family roots, the preservation and the strengthening of mana. Kahukiwa as a means of upholding Maori cultural values, to uplift and empower Maori people – women and children in particular and to add to our understanding of the history and whakapapa of NZ. Booth to bring to our awareness the need to protect all, especially the natural world, the earth, the place where we live.


  1. Eggleton, David. 2002. Earth and Spirit: Robyn Kahukiwa’s Mauri Ora! in Art New Zealand, Issue 105 (Summer 2002-2003)
  2. Hiroa, Te Rangi. 1949. The Coming of the Maori, The Creation of Man, p405, Maori Purposes Fund Board, Wellington, extracted from
  3. Kahukiwa, Robyn. 2005. Art of Robyn Kahukiwa, Penguin NZ
  4. Keith, Hamish. 2007. The Big Picture: A history of New Zealand art from 1642, Random House NZ

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