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Traditions of Maori Art


Art and particularly plastic art is a central part of the indigenous Maori culture in New Zealand. Traditional Maori art has been successfully preserved to this day, though it has gone through profound changes.

Origins of Maori Art

Their environment defined art in the Maori communities. The context defined most importantly, the materials available. The art would also vary from between regions and tribes, reflecting the idiosyncrasies of each group of people.

Traditionally materials such as wood, bone, jade, shells, flax, and feathers were used, as they were most easily accessible. While more materials are available to creative and boundary-breaking artists nowadays, the traditional materials remain in extensive use.

The art would have practical, decorative, and spiritual functions. Often the art would have several functions simultaneously, serving a functional purpose and representing something more profound at the same time.

Element of Maori Art

Maori plastic arts make use of strong shapes and specific colours. The dominant colours are black, red, and white. Red in particular represents mana, or power and prestige of an individual.

This use of colour is a representative example of the use of Maori art. In essence, it would not merely have a decorative function, but rather, the art would have a strong symbolic value. Maoris would integrate religion, superstition, and tradition into their craft.

Forms of Traditional Maori Art

Traditional Maori art would be expressed through four media: carving, tattoo, weaving, and painting. The purpose of the art often defined its media. While painting and carving were often mostly decorative, weaving often had more practical purposes of producing household items and clothes.

Maybe the most symbolic forms of traditional Maori art is the tattoos, made both on men and women. The tattoos would cover large portions of the body, even the face. The tattoos would communicate their carrier’s ancestry, and were consequently crucial for the Maoris’ identities.