Māori creatives shine at 60th Venice Biennale

Tuesday 23 April 2024

The prestigious art exhibition La Bienale Di Venezia opened its doors last week to showcase a range of works from global artists, with an installation from our Toi Rauwhārangi College of Creative Arts cohort receiving the highest accolade from the event - the Golden Lion.

Mataaho Collective with Takapau - Left to right: Dr Terri Te Tau, Bridget Reweti, Sarah Hudson and Erena Arapere-Baker.

Last updated: Wednesday 24 April 2024

Referred to as the Olympics of the art world, the Venice Biennale is an international contemporary art exhibition held every two years in Italy. This year, it is centred around the theme ‘Foreigners Everywhere’ and runs until 24 November.

Eight prominent New Zealand artists were invited to participate, including the art collective Mataaho, which is a collaboration between four wāhine Māori artists. The four artists, Erena Arapere-Baker, Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangātira, Ngati Raukawa, Sarah Hudson, Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Pūkeko, Bridget Reweti, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi and Dr Terri Te Tau, Rangitāne ki Wairarapa, have worked together since 2012 and are alumni of Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University’s Māori Visual Arts Programme Toioho ki Āpiti. Ms Arapere-Baker is now a Senior Lecturer within the programme.

Grounded in the contemporary realties of mātauranga Māori, Mataaho produces large-scale fibre-based installations. These works embody a collective authorship that transcends the individual capabilities of its members.

Mataaho Collective’s installation Takapau is inspired by whariki takapau, finely woven mats that elevate and add mana to special events. Described as both immersive and jaw-dropping, it serves as the focal point upon entering the corderie area of the exhibition, guiding visitors through the rest of the show.

The impressive scale and intricacies of the textile installation have earned Mataaho the top prize of the exhibition, the prestigious Golden Lion.

Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Paul Goldsmith congratulated the collective on winning one of the world’s most prestigious art prizes.

“It is good to see New Zealand artists excelling internationally and showcasing the best of our art and culture to the world. This win is a glowing endorsement of the brilliant work of the Mataaho collective and shows, again, our artists are world leaders.”

In their citation for the prize, the jury highlighted the installation’s impressive scale, noting the feat of engineering is a testament to the collective strength and creativity of the group.

Associate Professor Kura Te Waru-Rewiri says the success of Mataaho is being celebrated throughout the programme.

“Mataaho, a dedicated collective of wāhine artists, has globally gone from strength to strength since 2012, and it is with great pride that we Toioho ki Āpiti whānau at home congratulate and share a little of their success with the rest of the world once again.

He toa takitini,

He toa takimano.”

As the Collective’s largest piece of work, Takapau was originally commissioned for their first exhibition at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in 2022.

Alumni Dr Sandy Adsett, Ngāti Pahauwera, is also presenting his painting Waipuna 1978 at the exhibition. He is known for championing the revival of customary kōwhaiwhai and bringing it into the terrain of contemporary Māori art.

Using intricate lines of colour contrasting against bold koru patterns, Dr Adsett’s style of kōwhaiwhai is uniquely his own. Waipuna 1978 portrays the swirling movement of spring water emerging from Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother. This water, revered for its healing properties, holds significance in Māori culture and is used for ritual cleansing.


Professor of Māori Visual Art Robert Jahnke, Ngai Taharora, Te Whanau a Iritekura, Te Whanau a Rakairo o Ngati Porou, from Toioho ki Āpiti is also showcasing his artistry in Venice as part of the biennial art exhibition, Personal Structures, running concurrently with the Venice Biennale.

His featured work Te Wepu MMXXIII uses layers of triangular and diamond light to frame its signature motifs while creating iterations of pattern into infinity. Enveloped in reflections that encompass star, moon, mountain, heart and cross symbols, it evokes a sense of reverberating enlightenment as light emerges out of the dark.

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