Wednesday, February 8, 2017


The earliest forms of art found in New Zealand were most likely rock drawings found carved in the mountains of the South Island. Like other culture’s rock art, the indigenous rock art of New Zealand depicted everyday animals, including birds that are now extinct, people, and even animals/beings they made up. Because what fun is it if you can’t confuse people thousands of years into the future?

Maori art consists of two main areas: carving and tattoos. (Thankfully, not at the same time, although some of the tools are pretty damn similar.) The Maori typically carved wood, stone, and bone. Many of the their stone carvings and bone carvings were for figurines and jewelry.  They were particularly known for carving a form of jade known as pounamu, or greenstone.

The art of Maori tattooing is called Ta Moku. Both men and women are tattooed, but the areas on their bodies and designs vary. In the past, facial tattoos have been a part of this along with tattooing down the legs, arms, and back. Today, not quite as many tattoo their face (maybe a few still do), and now generally stick to their back, legs, and arms.

by Rita Angus
As Europeans arrived on the islands, they introduced their own art traditions. For the most part the Europeans focused on painting, and they mainly painted the scenery, and landscape art really became popular during the late 1800s. They also painted the Maori themselves. It seems that the Europeans were a little obsessed with their tattoos but too good to get one themselves. 

During the 20th century, many New Zealander artists, especially the Pakeha (the term used for non-Maoris), started painting in the styles that were popular throughout Europe and the Americas during that time. Cubism and expressionism surged while the island’s landscape led itself as a permanent model. There was also a rise in Maori art as well, and some artists took it upon themselves to merge European styles with Maori styles to create something extraordinarily New Zealand. 

The vast amount of literature from New Zealand is written in English. There isn’t a significant amount of literature written in Maori. This is primarily because the Maori carried a strong oral tradition of storytelling and didn’t have a script for their language. When James Cook arrived, they began transcribing their language into Latin letters, which is what it’s written in today. 

The Maori had their own songs and poetry called waiata. Poetry by the British living there pretty much stayed in the British style and dealt with British things. (Not much assimilation there, was there?) In the 1950s, poetry took a different turn and was brought to the forefront again, typically surrounding the theme of poor people and people in unfortunate situations. 

A couple New Zealand writers have gone on to win Man Booker awards: Keri Hulme (1985) and Eleanor Catton (2013). Several playwrights have also made their way to fame. Roger Hall is probably one of the most well known playwrights in New Zealand. One actor and playwright is Richard O’Brien. He wrote Rocky Horror Picture Show (originally as a musical called Rocky Horror Show), not only writing the musical but starring as Riff Raff in the 1975 movie version (which I love!).

Up next: music and dance

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