Whenua Hou: New Māori Ceramics presents new and existing work from New Zealand artists that represents recent uku (clay) practice. These artists are from around the country and have different backgrounds and philosophies, but they share an interest in making their own interpretations of Kaupapa Māori through their art.
Clay is a tactile and evocative medium. From Tracy Keith’s rough, expressive vessels to the extreme precision of Hera Johns and Davina Duke, each artist presents signature works reflecting their responses to the properties of the clay.
They have explored a broad set of themes and experiences that include the fluidity of Māori concepts of time and space; relationships to whenua and ahi kā, the power and history of symbolic forms and motifs and the changing modes we use to communicate and interact with our whānau and friends.
Hera Johns describes working with uku as an act of connecting with Papatūānuku, drawing inspiration through her and reflecting the simplicity and beauty of the natural world in clay. The kumara form is a subject that references the sustenance that can be derived from the land, symbolic of the age-old connections between Pacific peoples. It’s an accessible point of connection for viewers.
The works in Whenua Hou also show the range of techniques employed by the artists, using different clays and firing processes, alongside methods that we might more expect to see in other artistic forms such as sculpture, carving, painting and tā moko.
“The way you can treat clay is very immediate; you can be rough and gestural or you can really control it and create a refined outcome,” says artist Dan Couper. “I love the feel of it in my hands and how you can see the surface of what you are creating through light and shadow”
Couper’s figures merge classical sculptural traditions with tekoteko forms often found at the apex of a whare whakairo. They each represent a signatory of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, their expressions conveying annoyance or complexity – a reflection of what the artist considers to be a trail of broken promises, failed dreams and unrealised aspirations for Māori today.
Whenua Hou focuses on just some of the extraordinary work being produced in Aotearoa today, part of a larger conversation that blends ideas of past, present and future and frames the pieces within the larger global context.