Book on Ngāti Porou carving a winner

15 November 2017
Ngarino Ellis
Julia Taiapa, Massey University; Elizabeth Ellis, Chair of Haerewa; Ngarino Ellis.

Senior Lecturer in Art History, Ngarino Ellis (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) has won the Māori Art award at the 2017 Ngā Kupu Ora Awards: Māori Book Awards.

Ngarino won the award for her book A Whakapapa of Tradition: One Hundred Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830-1930, published by Auckland University Press with photography by Natalie Robertson.

"It was really humbling for the book to be recognised and it will hopefully inspire others to research their own tribal art histories," says Ngarino, who convenes Museums and Cultural Heritage in the Faculty of Arts.

A Whakapapa of Tradition came out of Ngarino's research into the Iwirākau Carving School of the East Coast for her PhD.

"Māori carving went through a rapid evolution from 1830 to 1930," she says. "Beginning around 1830, three dominant art traditions – war canoes, decorated store houses and chiefly houses – declined and were replaced by whare karakia (churches), whare whakairo (decorated meeting houses) and wharekai (dining halls)."

In her book, Ngarino examines how and why that fundamental transformation took place by exploring the Iwirākau School of Carving – credited with reinvigorating carving on the East Coast.

The six major carvers of this school went on to create more than thirty important meeting houses and other structures, which Ngarino explores to tell the story of Ngāti Porou carving and the profound transformation in Māori art.

A Whakapapa of Tradition also attempts to make sense of Māori art history, exploring what makes a tradition in Māori art; how traditions begin and, conversely, how and why they cease.

Ngarino has been working in the field of Māori art history since 1997. This area encompasses Māori art, architecture and culture from circa 800 to the present day, and includes both marae and gallery based practices. Within this field, she has concentrated primarily on pre-1900 art.

One of her next projects is to research the work of 20th century Ngāti Porou carver brothers Hone and Pine Taiapa, the latter of whom taught Pakariki Harrison, who would later carve the University's meeting house Tane Nui a Rangi.

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