With the crisp breeze of the New Zealand winter stroking my face, I headed out to visit some of the well known attractions in the city. I had no intention to write a blog today. I just went out to find some inspiration and get a better understanding of this capital city.
Never did I expect to find such inspiration in the city’s free art gallery. Sure, art is inspiring, but this is a travel blog. I would go as far as recommending it for a free day out. That would be about all.
As I walked through the revolving glass doors I was greeted with the warm heat from within and I embarked on what I thought would only be a half an hour wander through the different rooms. Initially, I already found the gallery more interesting than I had initially predicted as I explored the early Kiwi Art rooms. I took notes in my pad about how cubism, still life and fashion statements all took longer to become a trend on these islands.
Then I thought, why am I taking notes? When shall I use this observation? Regardless, I continued on my wanders and reached the most thought provoking section; Maori Art. As I am no expert in all things cultural (that is why I travel, to learn such things) I always hate the lack of information given in art galleries compared to museums. This painting is great, but what am I looking at? I can guess, but come on, I would like a bit of background. A bit of history of the people.
I was in luck. As I read what information was available to me, behind me sat a soulful lady whom worked here, with a bright purple fringe and clunky doc martins. She greeted me with a big smile and started asking me what I thought of the art gallery. I responded with how I liked the layout and mentioned my ground breaking observations in the lower levels, surely to blow her away with my knowledge of time and art.
“I noticed you are looking at the Maori work. What do you think?”
“Yeah, it’s great. I would kind of like more information though. I don’t think there is much around here so I’m not getting to appreciate what I am actually looking at…”
In short; I know nothing. I’m rather stupid. Why are there no kids activity boards with pretty pictures explaining these big heavy paintings?
She took a note and raised an eyebrow.
“I could actually tell you a little something about this kind of stuff.”
A little information turned into a 30minute long private tour which inspired this very post. I was so inspired by the end of it that I am sat in Starbucks (I hate Starbucks) with my Macbook and a White Chocolate Mocha, the epitome of a (You can pick the appropriate word).
Kathy first explained to me what the different facial tattoo’s symbolised and what they meant between tribes. Those who receive these tattoo’s are normally of a high rank within the tribe. Whereas the tattoos to us look like a lot of thick lines and swirls; to Maori, they tell a story. The facial markings would be read like a book and explain that individuals’ achievements, rank, heritage and personal characteristics.
Men would have a full face tattoo, or, Rangi Paruhi. Whereas women of rank would receive a tattoo covering only the chin area; Moko Kauae. These women were seen to be of importance and tattooing around the mouth would symbolise that this woman’s words were of importance and should be listened to.
These markings today are rare to see. Back then, it would be a tribal decision and you had to deserve the symbols which were put on your face. Now, it seems you can get these kind of tattoos anywhere for no real reason. I have only seen one lady with her chin decorated and Kathy said it could be simply a cosmetic tattoo, or someone from her tribe decided she was worthy to receive it.
I really wanted to take photographs of the wonderful work surrounding Kathy and I, but signs prohibited it. It seems Maori believe a photograph embodied their spirit and was strictly forbidden. If it wasn’t for Kathy, I would have no idea that the two different artists displayed the indigenous people in such a different way. One wall hung multiple paintings of tribes men and women looking down, sad and framed within a dark surround. Showing that the artist believed Maori was a dying culture. The opposite wall, an opposite opinion, bright gold frames and heads held high.
I was being blown away and Kathy just erupted like an Encyclopaedia in the wind and my hand couldn’t scrawl the notes quick enough. She continued on to tell me all about how the colonisation effected the island people compared to the aboriginals in Australia. I could have stayed and talked for hours. I received a private tour of that one room and I was exhausted mentally afterwards. I asked questions, of course, she could answer them all.
If you fancy a morning out, then please, visit Auckland Art Gallery and ask for Kathy (I’m joking, she would get quite a fan base!) It’s completely free to enter and if you arrive at 11am or 1pm; free tours of the gallery are offered to all visitors!
Have you visited the Auckland Art Gallery? What was your experience?
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