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Maori carving off the coffee table

New book takes study of Maori carving off the coffee table and into the realm of serious art

Embargoed until 18 December

Media release 7 December 2001

New book takes study of Maori carving off the coffee table and into the realm of serious art

Carved Histories: Rotorua Ngati Tarawhai Woodcarving by Roger Neich takes the study of Maori carving out of the realm of coffee table books and into the world of serious art in an international context.

A companion volume to the same author’s very successful Painted Histories, Carved Histories is a chronological account of the leading tradition of Maori woodcarving which explores the subject in depth and with far greater knowledge and sophistication than any earlier work.

The Ngati Tarawhai carvers of the Rotorua district have maintained a continuous distinctive style of carving from pre-European times to the present day. As the most prolific and one of the most influential schools of Maori carvers in New Zealand, they have played a critical role in the whole modern history of the development and survival of Maori carving. With the establishment of the government-sponsored Rotorua School of Maori Art in 1928, it was a Ngati Tarawhai carver, Eramiha Kapua, who became the main tutor and helped his traditional tribal art to make the transition into a modern ‘national’ art.

Beginning with Ngati Tarawhai life around Lake Okataina, this study looks at the context of production of all known carvings by Ngati Tarawhai, both in New Zealand and overseas, and explores the relationships between the carvers and their Maori patrons. After the end of the New Zealand wars, Ngati Tarawhai carvers were responsible for some of the most famous meeting houses in the Rotorua and wider Bay of Plenty district, often working with Ngati Pikiao carvers during the 1870s and 1880s.

With the advent of European patronage towards the end of the nineteenth-century European concepts of art were imposed on these carvers causing changes in the form of the carving and making the carvers conscious of their work as “Art” in the European sense. This self-consciousness reached its highest level in the production of “tourist art” when these carvers manufactured modified traditional and innovative items that signalled “Maori ART” to their European clients.

Carved Histories will be presented to Ngati Tarawhai and launched at the Auckland War Memorial Museum on 18 December, at a function co-hosted by Auckland University Press and the Museum. About the author A distinguished anthropologist specialising in Maori art, Dr Roger Neich BSc, MA, PhD, was born in Petone, Wellington, New Zealand in 1944. He has many fond memories of childhood vacations in the Rotorua area of New Zealand, where the tribal carvers studied so closely in his latest book, Carved Histories, were based.

As well as prodigious activity in researching and writing, he currently divides his time between two formal roles – Curator of Ethnology at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Auckland.

Dr Neich has carried out fieldwork in the Pacific, notably in Papua New Guinea, Samoa and New Zealand. He was the Ethnologist at the National Museum, of New Zealand 1969–1986. He has been curator of Ethnology at the Auckland since 1986 and was awarded a personal chair in Anthropology at the University of Auckland in 2001.

In 1980–1982 he undertook research at the University of California, Berkeley after being awarded a National Research Advisory Council Postgraduate Research Fellowship.

He was co-curator of the Maori exhibition at the British Museum, London, in 1996, and is co-curator of the proposed Maori exhibition in Rome using the Italian collections.

Hardback, maps, colour and b&w illustrations, genealogies, ISBN 1 86940 257 X, $89.95

– ENDS –

Notes 1. To arrange an interview with Roger Neich, please contact Christine O’ Brien, Auckland University Press, or contact Roger Neich directly on (09) 309-0443 (Mon–Wed) or (09) 3737599 (Thurs–Fri). 2. Illustrations can be made available electronically.

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