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