What I'm working on over summer: Ngarino Ellis

30 January 2018
Dr Ngarino Ellis

After stepping aside as the Convenor of Museums and Cultural Heritage at the end of last year, Dr Ngarino Ellis (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) now has a clear schedule to focus during her Research and Study Leave until July.

This summer she will begin working on a new research collaboration on Māori body adornment, complete chapters on the history of Māori art for her Marsden-funded Toi Te Mana project, and keep on researching for a book on twentieth-century Ngāti Porou carvers Hone and Pine Taiapa.

Her main priority this summer will be finishing up the Toi Te Mana project, which engages with Māori art from Te Pō right up to contemporary art. This large-scale history will fill an important gap in the literature.

"It can't do everything, but hopefully it will encourage other people to write other histories."

She is working with Associate Professor Deidre Brown (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu) of Architecture and Planning on the Toi Te Mana project, and they are planning to run an exhibition alongside the release of the book.

"We're excited and Auckland University Press is excited. Deidre and I have worked together before, so we know each other. And she's from up North too!"

Ngarino explains that she really enjoys working collaboratively.

"Collaborative working is really the way ahead for me."

Her work on Ngāti Porou carving alongside photographer Natalie Robertson (Ngāti Porou, Clann Dhònnchaidh) yielded the visually-rich book A Whakapapa of Tradition: One Hundred Years of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830–1930, which picked up the Judith Binney Best First Book Award for Illustrated Non-Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards,  the Art award at the Ngā Kupu Ora Awards, and the inaugural Best First Book Award at the New Zealand Historical Association’s conference, held at the University of Auckland in November.

Ngarino says that publishing research in a book is better for Māori audiences that she particularly wants to reach.

"Māori can buy the books, and the language and pitch is different to what is necessary for journal articles."

For her research into Māori body adornment Ngarino will be working alongside Nigel Borell (Pirirākau, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Te Whakatōhea) and Dr Areta Wilkinson (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Irakehu and Ngāti Wheke).

Nigel is the Curator of Māori Art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and a kowhaiwhai artist, while Areta is a practicing jeweller, whose work explores customary Māori adornment while pushing the boundaries of contemporary New Zealand jewellery practice.

Ngarino will spend the summer looking at the contemporary and historical work that has already been done on Māori body adornment, and preparing to visit major collections of body adornment overseas in March and April, especially in Rome and Chicago. She is especially excited about the collection in Rome, which she says has hardly been researched.

"It's an important story to be told."

Find out more about Dr Ngarino Ellis