In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Māori Art and Architecture

  • Introduction
  • A General Introduction to Maori
  • General Overviews
  • Museum Collections Taonga Māori/Māori Treasures
  • Periodicals
  • Biographies
  • Tribal Studies
  • Early Māori Art and Archaeology
  • Personal Adornment
  • Moko
  • Mahi Whatu, Mahi Raranga
  • Waka and the Arts of War
  • Architecture and Carving
  • Kōwhaiwhai and Tukutuku
  • Figurative Painting
  • European Perspectives on Māori, 1769–1920
  • Museology and Cultural Heritage
  • Repatriation and Digital Strategies
  • Human Remains
  • Maori Arts: Marae and Gallery Practice 1920–1970
  • Art and Gender
  • Representing Māori in Film and Photography
  • Contemporary Art
  • Specific Exhibitions

Art History Māori Art and Architecture
Ngarino Ellis
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0133


Maori art history originates in Te Po/The Darkness when the parents Ranginui/Sky Father and Papatūānuku/Earth Mother were joined. They were later separated by some of their sons which brought forth Te Ao Marama/The World of Light. These histories have been passed down orally more than fifty generations, embedded in moteatea/laments, whakatauki/proverbs, waiata/songs and other forms. Many of these oral histories are subsequently made manifest in art. Archaeologists and anthropologists trace a different, but complementary history. Through tangible (e.g., adzes, weaving patterns) and intangible (e.g., language, skills) heritage they trace Maori migrations from central Moana-nui-a-Kiwa/Pacific Ocean, to New Zealand c. 1100. The field of Māori art history as a specific facet of the discipline of art history can be traced to 1988 when Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Te Arawa, Tūhoe, Waikato) taught the first university course on Māori art history at the University of Auckland. Since then, four Maori have graduated with PhDs. Hirini Moko (Ngāti Awa) and Apirana Mahuika (Ngāti Porou) argue that Māori communities have been “practicing” art history for many generations in terms of talking about art, its origins, and influences. This is, in effect, the potential of New Art History—to understand the breadth of practice of the discipline and in turn learn from these new histories as much as they have been considering art history in turn. Notable Māori art historians include Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (1943–2014, Ngāpuhi, Te Āupouri, Ngāti Kurī, English), who was interested in the connections of Māori art history to other indigenous art histories. Other Māori art historians work as curators and artists, forging interdisciplinary links with anthropology and Maori studies, and more recently museum studies and non-Maori have made important contributions to our understanding of the changing dynamic that is Maori art. As increasing numbers of Maori publish and take up positions in universities, galleries, and museums it will be interesting to see how those who are not Maori plan out future research projects. Maori art writing is becoming more nuanced as more of the base narrative is published, and we hear whanau, hapu and iwi stories. Some may argue that it is now time for non-Maori to stand back when considering publishing such Maori art histories. There has certainly been ongoing critical discussion of this within the Maori art community. Māori are publishing in lengthy book format, while increasing numbers of Maori postgraduate students disseminate their research online to an increasingly digital audience. Over the period 2016–2017 three important moments should be noted which sum up the significance of Māori within the global and local landscape: three of the four prestigious Walters Prize finalists were Māori, all four artists chosen for the 2017 documenta 4 exhibition in Athens are Māori, and New Zealand’s artist for the Venice Biennale is Lisa Reihana. He toi whakairo, he mana tangata (Through artistic excellence, there is human dignity).

A General Introduction to Maori

References in this section introduce the landscape in which to understand Māori art, its production, changes, and reception, as well as ongoing relevance. Many might be considered revisionist histories (Anderson, et al. 2014; Belich 2007) due to their hard-hitting revelations about history which invariably include Māori perspectives on the same events (Durie 1998). In doing so they shed new light on the influence and impact of Pākehā (non-Maori New Zealander) individuals and groups and their roles in the process of colonization. These histories often show Māori agency in relation to events (Harris 2004, Te Ara), and the responses by Māori to incursions on their lands, and by extension mana (Walker 1990).

  • Anderson, Atholl, Judith Binney, and Aroha Harris. Tangata Whenua: An Illustrated History. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams, 2014.

    DOI: 10.7810/9781927131411

    Award-winning book that covers a history of Māori from early origins in the Pacific, and in oral history, through a chronological survey right up to the present day. Considered the go-to book to understand the context of Māori art.

  • Belich, James. Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders: From Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin, 2007.

    Early revisionist New Zealand history which presents Māori as having much higher levels of agency than previous thought. Belich argues for the construction of Māori and Pakeha and interrogates the ways in which both intersected. Immensely readable for the many fascinating insights into the larger history of New Zealand accessed through very attractive stories and narratives and characters.

  • Durie, Mason. Te Mana, Te Kāwanatanga. The Politics of Māori Self-Determination. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    Durie (Ngāti Kauwhata, Rangitane) has written a number of watershed books which have challenged master narratives about Māori history, and in doing so asserted Māori sovereignty has been maintained through various cultural strategies. Chapter entitled “Mana Tūpuna. Identity and Heritage” provides a great survey about the integral connections between Māori and tribal identities, and their negotiation in the 20th century.

  • Harris, Aroha. Hikoi! Forty Years of Māori Protest. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia, 2004.

    Harris (Te Rarawa, Ngapuhi) is one of the most active Māori historians working today, and here charts the history of protest through the 20th century, and the ways in which Māori began lobbying for real change across many spheres of life.

  • Te Ara.

    Since around 2008 the New Zealand government has maintained this website through the Ministry of Culture and Heritage. The website covers many aspects of Māori, mostly written by Māori authors and constantly being updated. Great images and short videos reinforce the text.

  • Walker, Ranginui. Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou. Auckland, New Zealand: Penguin, 1990.

    As the Head of the Māori Studies Department at the University of Auckland for many years, Walker (Whakatohea) here covers a thousand years of Māori history with clear and erudite prose. This book was written in tandem to a first-year introduction to Māori society course that Walker taught. Interesting histories of carving included.

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