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  • Rauru: Tene Waitere, Maori Carving, Colonial History

    Thomas4Tene Waitere (1854-1931) was one of the greatest Maori carvers of the colonial period. He acquired his skills in a customary manner, and had a profound knowledge of carving traditions, but worked in a new world, in the decades following the New Zealand wars, that had seen Maori ways of life profoundly and permanently changed. Waitere was the first Ngati Tarawhai artist to produce a major corpus of material for European clients. He carved also for his whanau, his iwi, and for other Maori, but he made many important works, ranging from small pieces such as walking sticks to full-scale carved houses for individual tourists and other whites such as ethnologists, collectors, and hotel owners.

    The book this collaborative project will result in takes its title from Rauru, the meeting house named after the creator of the art of carving in Te Arawa and some other tribal traditions, which arguably incorporates Tene’s greatest work. Carved with Anaha te Rahui and Neke Kapua for the Rotorua hotel manager C. E. Nelson over 1897-1900, the whare whakairo is renowned for its figurative representation of major elements of Maori myth, but is innovative and adventurous in many ways, full of mana, and consistently assured in the flawless and dynamic character of its carving.

    Nelson sold the house to the Museum fur Volkerkunde, Hamburg, in 1904, and it has remained in that museum – renowned for great Oceanic collections, mainly associated with German expeditions and colonies in the Pacific – ever since.Building on the authoritative work of Roger Neich (Carved Histories, 2001), the book arising from this project will be an experimental text-image collaboration.

    It will feature approximately 100 images by the New Zealand documentary photographer Mark Adams, essays by Nicholas Thomas, and two extended interviews, one with James Schuster, Tene Waitere’s great-grandson, and another with Lyonel Grant, a leading contemporary Maori carver, who brings the fascinating insights of a practitioner.

    Adams’ photographs, produced with a large-format 8 x 10 inch field camera, are frequently made up of three or four single shots, together amounting to semi-panoramic views that evoke and investigage the historic and contemporary contexts of Waitere’s major carvings, from sites that are now empty in the Rotorua area in New Zealand, to museums in Hamburg and London among other places.This project has been supported by a British Academy Small Grant.

    Principle Investigator: Prof. Nicholas Thomas

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