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Revealing the meaning behind ancient rock drawings

Revealing the meaning behind ancient rock drawings

A new exhibition by Maori artist Ross Hemera provides new interpretations of traditional Maori rock drawings.

The exhibition, titled Manu Atua – Birdman of Waitaha - opens today at the Kura Contemporary and Ethnic Art Gallery in Wellington.

It features nine works, including seven wall sculptures in aluminium and kauri, that explore the birdman imagery in rock drawings in North Canterbury and South Otago, mostly on limestone outcrops.

Mr Hemera says some of these drawings can still be viewed but others have been submerged by hydro developments, including the Benmore dam. “I am fortunate,” he says. “When I was a child my father took me to see some of these drawings, in the Waitaki Valley in North Otago. So although they are lost to most people, they are familiar to me.”

Mr Hemera says this sculptures “explore the notion that interpretations of ‘birdman’ hold significant cultural relevance across several centuries. Our creative interpretations today continue to reaffirm our connections to land and sky – to whenua and atua.”

The birdman imagery is frequently used in the rock drawings; Mr Hemera says traditionally the bird is regarded as the intermediary between the land and the gods.

Ross Hemera’s work has referenced ancient rock drawings for the last five years. His new exhibition is the first to have a primary focus on bird images in particular.

Ross Hemera’s work uses diverse media, including painting as well as sculpture. He is an Associate Professor and lecturer with Massey University’s College of Creative Arts in Wellington.


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