When Clifford referenced the “worlds no more” of Pacific and Oceania nations different historians categorized in his essay “Histories of the Tribal and Modern”, he used a specific exhibition that came from the Maori people in New Zealand to illustrate his point that these nations and people still do exist and are still creating art. This in particular peaked my interest because of my experience studying abroad in New Zealand and having had the opportunity to learn firsthand about the indigenous Maori culture. As this essay was written somewhere in the late 1980’s or early 90’s, it’s interesting to compare the essay’s judgement of the exhibition with my own personal experiences.
At the time, the exhibition Clifford mentioned was titled the Te Maori and shown in the Metropolitan, and was specifically on loan from New Zealand and the Maori people. Clifford reasoned that much of this exhibit was politically driven, with the gas company sponsoring the show wanting to build a good relationship with the New Zealand government, and the artists and owners of pieces in the show (the Maori people) were more focused on increasing their international artistic platform, to both make themselves better known and increase awareness of Maori culture in New Zealand. In the past twenty or so years, as far as I can tell the relationship between New Zealand and the Maori people has improved dramatically. While their “tribal artifacts” may still not be viewed as fine art, they are understood to be beautiful, practical tools of life and can still fit in the modern world of New Zealand art as examples of decorative and ceremonial art. One of my favorite examples of Maori artistry in New Zealand was located in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which essentially had a marae (house of worship) built into it, which you could actually walk into. It was a great way to observe the art of the Maori people while also understanding the context of their art. Now if only we could expand this concept to the dominant Western world in accepting these cultures of art as they are without having to be driven politically or by a need to validate the art of another culture by Western standards.
Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017