Contemporary Maori Art

New Zealand’s art is a globally renowned phenomenon that is born from the symbiosis of traditional Maori art and more contemporary Western influences.

While Maori art has a long history, and it has a strong relationship to Maori tradition and history, it remains a dynamic genre of art. The contemporary phenomena are sometimes contentious, as changes are not always welcomed.

Changing Culture

It was the European colonialism that brought the most profound change in Maori art. European influences brought new forms to the art. New tools, materials and working methods were introduced as well, making the artists’ work often easier.

An important component of this change was the transforming purpose of the art. Traditionally, Maori art represented tradition, religion, and spirituality. After colonialism and since the 1960s in particular, Maori art came to represent national identity and asserting opposition to the colonial rule.

The renaissance of Maori art in the 20th century and its quick popularisation in the best art galleries of the world developed in parallel with Maori nationalism.

Finding a Maori Voice

Maori art is now a booming genre, but one that is still finding its soul in the modern world. The combination of traditional Maori and “modern” European influences in contemporary New Zealand art lead to difficult questions as to what really constitutes “real” Maori art.

Maori artistic identity is still an unresolved issue. Some artists welcome the change, the new influences, and see themselves as a part of a global movement. Traditionalists, on the other hand, question whether the contemporary tendencies qualify as “Maori” art at all.

There is also a vivid debate between branches of the New Zealand art community concerning the politics of Maori art. Part of the art community remains strongly committed to the Maori nationalism and political rights. In contrast, the mainstream art community would prefer to promote more neutral and westernised artistic expression.