Book de­fies con­ven­tion

Central Leader - - NEWS - By KA­RINA ABA­DIA

PUB­LISH­ING a book on Maori art has been a long time com­ing for Dr Rangi­hi­roa Panoho.

He started writ­ing Maori Art. History, Ar­chi­tec­ture, Land­scape and The­ory more than 20 years ago while com­plet­ing a master’s de­gree in art history.

Panoho, who lives in Mt Al­bert, had a con­tract with an Aus­tralian pub­lisher but the com­pany folded.

At the same time he was of­fered a PhD schol­ar­ship to study at the Univer­sity of Auck­land and took up a lec­tur­ing po­si­tion there.

The man­u­script be­came his the­sis and now re­turns to book form with pho­to­graphs by Mark Adams and Haruhiko Sameshima.

Hav­ing the book pub­lished is won­der­ful but also bit­ter­sweet, the 52-year-old says.

‘‘Au­thors of­ten say that pub­lish­ing a book is a lit­tle bit like giv­ing birth. It’s like cut­ting the um­bil­i­cal cord and let­ting other peo­ple in­ter­pret it.’’

Panoho was the first Maori per­son to com­plete a mas­ters de­gree and a PhD in Maori art history. He was also the first cu­ra­tor of Maori art when he worked at the Sar­jeant Gallery in Wan­ganui in the late 1980s.

Panoho chal­lenges con­ven­tion by not defin­ing art works in the book as solely tra­di­tional or con­tem­po­rary.

In­stead he ex­plores the con­nec­tions be­tween dif­fer­ent media and dis­ci­plines.

‘‘You can get caught in the trap of cat­e­goris­ing art as ei­ther fall­ing into tra­di­tional ob­jects (taonga) or con­tem­po­rary ob­jects,’’ he says.

‘‘Things die and then a group of peo­ple ei­ther bring back an art form, a mo­tif or a story or they cre­ate some­thing to­tally new.

‘‘The book also moves pretty flu­idly be­tween dis­ci­plines like art history, ar­chi­tec­ture, phi­los­o­phy and literature.’’

Dr Ly­onel Grant, who carved the meet­ing house at Unitec In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, is a good ex­am­ple of an artist work­ing be­tween the tra­di­tional and con­tem­po­rary spheres, Panoho says.

‘‘The house has cast bronze cen­tral bridge poles and all sorts of in­no­va­tions and yet he’s a great carver within the Ro­torua School tra­di­tion.

‘‘He can cre­ate a meet­ing house and a waka and can also have his art on a gallery wall and that’s not an is­sue.’’

But Panoho is un­com­fort­able with be­ing la­belled an ex­pert in Maori art.

‘‘I’m more in­ter­ested in ob­serv­ing; pulling back from the sub­ject and try­ing to see how oth­ers have seen it. And maybe then adding my bit,’’ he says.

Photo: KA­RINA ABA­DIA

Dr Rangi­hi­roa Panoho has writ­ten a 352-page book on Maori art.

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