New Zealand post issued postage stamps to coincide with the dawn of Maori New Year, the Matariki 2015 stamp issue celebrates the ancient art form ” Kowhaiwhai” in a contemporary setting.
Typically featured in the whare whakairo (decorated meeting house) on the heke (rafters), kowhaiwhai is an art form that is distinctively Maori, and unique to Aotearoa New Zealand.
Kowhaiwhai has been a central theme in the work of Maori artists for generations. Today it is a symbol of modern Maori identity and is a fine example of the abstract nature of Maori art.
Kowhaiwhai patterns refer to ancestral lineage and genealogy and also represent the natural world. The shape of the kowhaiwhai design conveys a sense of perpetual motion, with the literal translation of kowhaiwhai being ‘to pursue’ or ‘to repeat’.
The stamp issue celebrates kowhaiwhai through the artworks of six established Maori artists – from the digital, wide-reaching work of Johnson Witehira to the accomplished work of Sandy Adsett, who has long been regarded as the artist most closely associated with modern kowhaiwhai painting.
80c – Johnson Witehira
Johnson Witehira has studied intensively the art of kowhaiwhai. Like many other Maori artists, he finds comfort when working in the same manner as his ancestors. From an informed position, Witehira creates new and innovative kowhaiwhai designs. His designs incorporate new techniques, materials and influences and have been applied to a variety of forms and spaces that are not exclusively Maori.
80c – Kura Te Waru Rewiri
Tenei au tenei au (This is me, this is me)
Tenei au tenei au experiments with the illusory qualities of kowhaiwhai, the sense of movement and depth that is created through the use of positive and negative space. Rather than repeating those techniques, however, Kura Te Waru Rewiri (Ngepuhi, Ngeti Kahu, Ngeti Rangi, Ngeti Raukawa ki Kauwhata) has used transparent glazes to overlay various kowhaiwhai designs.
$1.40 – Kylie Tiuka
Haki from the series Whakahokia mai te mauri
Kylie Tiuka (Tuhoe) is a former student of Sandy Adsett and belongs to a new generation of Maori artists who incorporate kowhaiwhai within their work. She admires the rhythm of customary kowhaiwhai and strives to achieve the same degree of balance in her work. Tiuka draws inspiration from painting in the whare whakairo from her tribal region of Te Urewera.
$2.00 – Buck Nin
Banner Moon from the series Land Protest 1975-1976 reworked in 1982
Buck Nin (1942-1996, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Toa) was a central figure in the establishment of the contemporary Maori art movement in the 1960s. His paintings combine customary Maori arts with landscape and portraiture to convey the strength and resolve of Maori culture in the modern period. Banner Moon depicts a landscape seen through the lattice of a carved canoe prow.
$2.50 – Ngatai Taepa
Part of the Te Hatete o Te Reo series
Ngatai Taepa (Te Arawa, Te atiawa) promotes the practice of kowhaiwhai as a visual language and has advanced the tradition with a range of new, confident and complex designs. This artwork is from a series called Te Hatete o Te Reo, which references a waiata (song) that encourages people to speak the Maori language.
$3.00 – Sandy Adsett
Taona Marama (Night Lights of the City)
Sandy Adsett (Ngati Kahungunu) has long been regarded as the artist most closely associated with modern kowhaiwhai painting. Adsett has, however, consistently challenged the classic definition of kowhaiwhai as a fixed and repeating pattern in the standard colours of red, black and white. Rather, he has drawn attention to the wide range of colours used by the ancestral artists.
Title: Matariki 2015 – Kowhaiwhai
Date of Issue: 3 June 2015
Country: New Zealand
Denominations: 80c (x2), $1.40, $2.00, $2.50 and $3.00