New Traditions brings together contemporary paintings, folk art and traditional Maori art forms to explore three different eras of New Zealands art history. The pairing of works highlights the ongoing significance and contemporary relevance of themes pertinent to traditional Maori art practices.
Pre-colonial Maori artisans were constantly finding innovative solutions to issues of representation in their traditional ornaments, weapons and buildings. Art had a function and was intellectually, spiritually and physically attached to functional objects. Taiaha, pare and mere pounamu were meaningful both in their use and decoration.
Colonial and post colonial Maori had the dual task of learning to view art as a means to its own end and also of learning the use and application of new mediums. It was during this time that Sir Apirana Ngata (1874 - 1950) and his contemporaries were instrumental in ensuring that while new forms of expression were embraced, the knowledge of traditional cultural and artistic practices was passed from the older generations to the younger. In this sense the exhibition notes reinterpretations of traditional ideologies in art through new materials and technologies.
Objects which can now be seen as folksy or kitsch were, at the time of their creation, symbolic of a re-education to traditional artistic practices but employing the new European materials and concepts. Such objects can be seen in New Traditions as initial examples of New Zealand-specific cultural fusion.
Now, as then, New Zealand artists such as Shane Cotton, John Walsh, Darryn George and Reuben Paterson are able to employ all elements from our rich artistic ancestry to give voice to fresh concerns and to voice old concerns in fresh ways.