Dr Ngarino Ellis


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Senior Lecturer


My primary field of research is Māori art history and my focus has been on identifying, promoting and recuperating matauranga in relation to art forms, art practices, artists and theories. This area encompasses Māori art and culture from c800 to the present day, and includes both marae and gallery-based art practices. I have concentrated on pre-1900 art, especially tribal carving, moko signatures, personal adornment and identity. Currently I am the only Māori art historian employed at tertiary level, which encourages me to work collaboratively with Māori in other disciplines, such as Fine Arts, Architecture and History. During the past five years I have disseminated Māori-centred methodologies, terminologies, and research in relation to Art History across a broad range of audiences. My research has sought to transform the nature of Art History as we know it in order to present new paradigms and theories in relation to Art History as a whole.

My primary publication was 'A Whakapapa of Tradition: One Hundred Years of Ngāti Porou Carving 1830-1930' (NRO1) which won the 2017 Ockham Judith Binney Award for Best First Book Illustrated Non-Fiction, and the Te Mahi Toi/Māori Arts Award at the 2017 Ngā Kupu Ora, Celebrating Māori Books and Journalism, and the inaugural Best First Book award from the NZ Historical Association. An interview about this with Wallace Chapman (20.03.2016) can be heard here, a story in Te Wiwi Nati can be read here, and an interview on Te Kāea (Māori Television) can be viewed here.

The other research focus has been on the Marsden funded project ‘Toi Te Mana: A History of Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand' together with the late Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki and Dr Deidre Brown; our manuscript with Auckland University Press for a major hardback book is due mid-2019. This seeks to write the first comprehensive history of Māori art and investigate the relationships, continuities and commonalities between the art of the ancestors and their descendants using specially-developed art history and Kaupapa Māori methodologies.  For more see here: http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/2012/10/25/brown/. I have spoken about the project at the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand annual conference in Canberra (Dec 2016), and again at the Remembering Jonathan Symposium in Wellington on 29 July 2017. 

Increasingly I have disseminated my research internationally: I have accepted three fully-funded invitations and published two chapters in a book translated in Te Reo, English and German (in Rauru: Treasure House of Maori Stories, 2012). One of those invitations led to an essay on Moko in Gottfried Lindauer's paintings being published in Germany (in RIHA Special Issue, essay 0192, 2018).

More recently Natalie Robertson and I wrote the methodology of collaboration in Māori communities from working on A Whakapapa of Tradition ('The Iwirakau Project,' History of Photography. Special Issue: Indigenous 42.3 (Sept 2017)). Disseminating information about sources is also an important component of my research: in Nov 2018 Oxford Bibliographies of Art History published my 17,000-word essay on ‘Māori. Art and Architecture,’ the first article in relation to Māori. 

Indigenous biography is also an interest of mine. I have published this as "Te Ao Hurihuri o nga Taonga Tuku Iho. The Evolving Worlds of our Ancestral Treasures" for a Special Indigenous Issue of the University of Hawai'i based journal Biography.  Here I think through ideas of biography in relation to Māori art, specifically through four case studies, and how this might affect wider understandings of indigenous biography on a global landscape. These ideas are part of preliminary ongoing research focused on the life and work of 20th Century Master Carvers Pine and Hone Taiapa (Ngāti Porou).  

From my teaching of Art Crime, I became interested in New Zealand's history of this. I have discussed the history of art theft within Maori culture (see chapter in The Art Crime Handbook, 2016) and am keen to foster national interest in this field. To this end in 2015 I became a founding trustee of the Art Crime Research Trust. The Trust's main aim is to host annual symposia in this field. Their first one was in 2015 with over 80 attending. In 2017 we held our second Symposium at the City Gallery. I have spoken about the pair of Lindauers stolen from Parnell in 2017 here and more recently the idea of their being sold on the Dark Web, a story that broke in Nov 2017 here. Our next Symposium will be in September 2019 - more information to come.

Other recent projects focus have focused on moko signatures ('Ki to ringa ki nga rakau a te Pakeha? Drawings and Signatures of Moko by Māori in the early 19th century,’ Read it here: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=581023126379058;res=IELNZC) and Maori whare whakairo (meeting houses) overseas ('Maori Meeting Houses Overseas,' Rauru. Masterpiece of the Māori published with volumes in Māori, German and English by Hamburg Museum (2012).

In my role as Coordinator of Museums and Cultural Heritage (2012-2017) I examined different approaches to the world of museums theory and practice. In particular I have been promoting the idea of writing and teaching about this field using only indigenous sources which has been very exciting for her as an indigenous scholar. In 2017 the Programme welcomes 21 students, including the first cohort of Master of Heritage Conservation students. More information about the Programme and its new 18-month masters programme can be found here: http://www.arts.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/subjects-and-courses/museums-and-cultural-heritage.html

Research | Current

  • Māori and indigneous art history and architecture
  • Māori Body Adornment
  • Tribal Māori carving, especially Ngāti Porou
  • Indigenous museology
  • Moko
  • Art crime, particularly looting and theft in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Indigenous women's art and visual culture


Toi Te Mana: A Maori History of Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand. 

> Principal Investigator with Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (NICAI) and Associate-Professor Deidre Brown (CAI). 2013-8. *UPDATE: to be published with Auckland University Press 2021.

Although Māori art has long been acknowledged as one of the world's great art traditions, no comprehensive history of Māori art has yet been written. Internationally, art historians have begun to dismantle boundaries around Western fine art that have purposefully excluded indigenous making and makers, and this coincides with a time when Māori are leading research into indigenous knowledges. We are ideally placed within these discussions to help transform the discipline globally through the development of an innovative Māori art history. Toi Te Mana will investigate the relationships, continuities, and commonalities between the art of the ancestors and their descendants using specially-developed art historical and Kaupapa Māori research methodologies. It will trace the development of the art from its Polynesian origins to the present day though a detailed and reflexive analysis based on case studies, ancestral narratives, historical records, investigations of art works and artist interviews. The project will make the experience of Māori art accessible and intelligible to local and international audiences in a major team-authored book with specialist dissemination through journal articles and conference presentations. Toi Te Mana will set an academic precedent as the first comprehensive indigenous art history created by and with indigenous peoples.

Pine and Hone Taiapa: Master Carvers of the 20th Century.

This project seeks to examine the lives and works of two of the most prolific Māori carvers of the 20th century, the brothers Pine and Hone Taiapa. Both trained at the Rotorua Carving School from the late 1920s and conitnued working through to their deaths in the 1970s. Their work has been written about as part of other projects, but this will be the first time that a focused study will be made of them. They taught many of the leading Māori artists and carvers working today, including Cliff Whiting, Paratene Matchitt and Sandy Adsett, and in this way are significant in the story of Māori art, and its evolution through the 20th century. The research builds on the Iwirakau project. The University of Auckland Summer Research Scholarship revealed many significant oral accounts at Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision which will be integral to this project. *UPDATE: I have applied for FRDF funding 2019 to kick-start the project with a Taiapa whanau hui in Rotorua, and three field trips to visit projects.

> Published as 'Te Ao Hurihuri o nga Taonga Tuku Iho. The Evolving Worlds of our Ancestral Treasures,' in a Special Indigenous Issue of the journal Biography in 2016-7.

Aspects of this research will be included as part of Toi Te Mana.

Nga Mahi a Wharawhara. Mā​ori Body Adornment: A History.

This field is so rich yet so little writing by Māori has been published so far. There have been a couple of exceptional academic studies (Areta Willkinson's PhD thesis on Jewellery as Pepeha, and Dougal Austin's MA on hei tiki). This project seeks to explore, expose and understand different aspects of Māori personal adornment. A literature review was written for a University of Auckland Summer Scholarship (2016-7), with another Summer Scholar lined up over the summer of 2018-9 to identify and discuss body adornment examples in museums overseas, and in auction catalogues. Māori personal adornment features in Māori textual narratives (eg the heru in the Paikea story) and has been recorded in forms such as archival and published materials eg Nga Moteatea.  These will be a feature of the research. *UPDATE: I have applied for a Royal Marsden Society grant in 2019, and have made it through to the second round full application stage. Notification of this will be in Nov 2019.


A Whakapapa of Tradition: A Century of Ngāti Porou Carving, 1830-1930. 

> Book released 21.03.16: with Auckland University Press with new photography by Natalie Robertson.

Entitled "A whakapapa of tradition" my book argues for visual traditions to be seen as whakapapa (genealogy), with a distinct beginning, middle and end. She is applying this to the Iwirakau School of carving which was based in the Waiapu Valley on the East Coast. This School was responsible for building and decorating over 30 meeting houses in and around the area. The top 6 carvers were Hone Ngatoto and his uncle Hone Taahu, Riwai Pakerau, Te Kihirini and Tamati Ngakaho. The projects they worked on include Hau Te Ana Nui o Tangaroa (1874), Porourangi (1888), and St Marys Church in Tikitiki (1926).

As part of this project, in 2002 I co-edited a book entitled Te Ata. Mäori Art from the East Coast, New Zealand with Professor Witi Ihimaera (English) in which she also wrote a chapter about the history of Ngāti Porou carving. The book covers a range of artistic traditions, both historical and contemporary. She has also published on Sir Apirana Ngata and his carving school at Rotorua in Art New Zealand.

To buy this book go to: http://www.press.auckland.ac.nz/en/browse-books/all-books/books-2016/a-whakapapa-of-tradition.html

Aspects of this research will be included as part of Toi Te Mana.

Indigenous Approaches to Art Crime in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Art crime is a major inter-disciplinary area that has been the focus of one of my courses in Art History since 2010 (ARTHIST 230/332 on offer 2020). This is not, unfortunately, only occuring overseas, but has been happening in Aotearoa for many centuries. Theft within Māori culture often prompted a Taua Muru, retributive war mission, whilst vandalism of carvings and other taonga (treasures) also often occurred. Looting (pahuatia, kohunutia, murua) was also part and parcel of warfare, with treasures being taken or destroyed, and artists made to work as prisoners-of war. This project seeks to understand this history, and consider how this changed with the arrival of Pakeha. In the 20th century and through to today, art crime is primarily seen in terms of theft (eg of Colin McCahon's Urewera Mural) and vandalism. *UPDATE: If you are in Wellington on 19 October 2019 come along to our annual symposium at the City Gallery, Wellington.

> Public talk on 4 May 2016 at Christchurch Art Gallery on International Art Crime;

> Conference presentation 'Māori Perspectives on Art Crime' in the Inaugural Art Crime Research Symposium at the City Gallery, Wellington in Sept 2015 [for which she is one of the organisers];

> Published as 'Looting and Theft in Colonial-Era Aotearoa/New Zealand' in Arthur Tompkins, ed., Art Crime, London: Lund Humphries, 2016. 148-160.

Aspects of this research will be included as part of Toi Te Mana.

Moko Signatures in the 19th Century.

Self-portraits using moko have a relatively short history (1815-1884) within Māori culture, yet they provide many revelations about Māori and how they saw themselves. These took two forms: those which were made on land deeds across the country, and those made on request for Europeans. Examples range from a letter to King William IV in 1831 signed by 13 Ngapuhi chiefs, to a self-portrait by Te Peehi Kupe of Ngāti Toa Rangitira made in Liverpool, England and two drawings by Tuai of his Ngāre Raumati brother Korokoro. She argues here that these drawings should be read as part of a unique system of Māori self-portraiture in which the physiognomic details so critical in Western European traditions of self-portraiture are replaced by complex forms of moko. In doing so, they provide a snapshot into cross-cultural engagement and interaction between Māori and Pākeha, and suggest a deeper level of Māori understanding of such practices than previously thought. That these drawings are regarded as the ancestors by their descendants today is evidence of the enduring power of these tohu.

> Published as 'Ki tō ringa ki ngā rākau ā te Pākehā? Drawings and Signatures of Moko by Māori in the early 19th Century,' Journal of the Polynesian Society 123.1 (March 2014): 29-67.

> Published as 'Māori Self-Portraiture,' in Anne Allen, ed., Repositioning Pacific Arts. Artists, Objects, Histories. London: Sean Kingston Publishing, 2014. 18-29.

Aspects of this research will be included as part of Toi Te Mana.

Teaching | Current

ARTHIST 230 Art Crime (*due to be offered in S1, 2020)

ARTHIST 233 The Art of Gender Politics (*due to be offered in 2021)

ARTHIST 238 Mana Taonga: Tradition and Innovation in Māori Art (being taught S2, 2019)

ARTHIST 332 Art Crime (*due to be offered S1, 2020)

ARTHIST 333 The Art of Gender Politics (*due to be offered in 2021)

ARTHIST 338 Mana Taonga: Tradition and Innovation in Māori Art (being taught S2, 2019)

MUSEUMS 704 Exhibiting Cultures: Māori and Indigenous (semester 1) and International (semester 2) * on offer every year

Postgraduate supervision

My supervision spans across both Art History and the Museums and Cultural Heritage programme.


  • [in progress, due to submit Dec 2019], Jeremy Treadwell - 'Constructing the 19th Century Whare.' [second supervisor with CAI]
  • [in progress, 2019-21], Miao Xu - ‘Chinese collections in New Zealand museums.’ [International student]
  • [in progress, 2019-21], Talei Si’ilata - ‘Developing an Indigenous Theoretical Framework for Decolonization of Art Historical Studies of Polynesian Material Culture.’ [second supervisor]
  • [in progress, 2019-21], Jess Mio - ‘Kaupapa Pakeha: Anti-colonial praxis amongst white people in Aotearoa’ [second supervisor with Maori Studies]


  • Nelson Caban - MA - Working title: 'First Nations Curatorship: A Comparison between the NMAI and the U'Mista Centre' (2017-8). 
  • Olivia Guyodo - MA - 'Images of Motherhood in French Impressionist Art.' 2019
  • Sherry Paik - MA - 'Space in the work of three NZ-based East Asian Artists: Kerry Ann Lee, Jae Hoon Lee and Seung Yul Oh.' 2019
  • Marine Vallee - PhD - 'Exhibiting French Polynesia: A comparative approach of representation through museums and gallery spaces' 2018
  • Marvin Wu - PhD - 'Visitor experiences: A Comparison between China and New Zealand.'


  • Catriona Britton - Honours dissertation - 'Tracing Taonga: An Examination of Kingitanga Taonga Held at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.' 
  • Marie Helliwell - Honours dissertation - 'The Display of Indigenous Cultures. A comparative case study between New Zealand, Australia, and Canada'
  • Jade Le Petit - Honours dissertation - 'An assessment of how the Economic Climate has impacted on the archaeological record of ancient Egyptian sites from 2009-2016.' 
  • Leah Morris - Honours dissertation - 'Repatriation of human remains: Balancing the needs of the people against the wants of the scientist. A case study approach.' 
  • Nierensche Perese-Kuli - Honours dissertation - ''The use of social media by indigenous artists' 
  • Te Kororia Netana - MA - 'A Matter for Interpretation: A Study of the Influences of Digitization on the Authenticity of Social and Sacred Objects of Indigenous Communities.' 


* MA/MLitt (35-40,000 words) *

  • Kristina Chen: 'Life experiences in Aesthetic Expressions. The Formation of Multi-Cultural Consciousness in Maori-Chinese Artists.' (2017)
  • Tia Pohatu: 'Disquiet: Maori Historical Narratives and Museums.' (2017)
  • Ruby Satele: 'One Hundred Years of the Selu: Samoan Ceremonial Comb.' (2017)
  • Elisapeta Heta: 'E moemoea tatou ka taea: A History of Māori art and artists collectives in Aotearoa 1984-2014.' (2014-5)
  • Sarah Jacobs: 'City Exhibitions: Community Involvement and the Construction of History.' (2014-5)
  • Amanda Teo: 'Still at Risk? Factors that Affect the Damage to Cultural Heritage in Times of Armed Conflict: Syria and Iraq 2011-2014.' (2014-5).
  • Taarati Taiaroa: 'A History of Māori Art Exhibitions: a critical analysis of 'cultures of display' (2013-4)
  • Jana Allen: 'Unpacking the Glory Box: An exploration of the jewellery of Areta Wilkinson and Sofia Tekela Smith.' (2013)
  • Jessica Jones: ‘Te Tutaki: Place, Time, Biculturalism and the Postmodern in the work of Shane Cotton, 2000-12.' (2013)
  • Tyla Ta'ufo'ou: 'Cross-cultural patterns: Contemporary Samoan Tatau.' (2013, sem 1 only)
  • Adele McNutt: 'Is the practice of archaeology visible at the Auckland War Memorial Museum: A case study examining the display of Taonga – Māori treasures.' with Associate Professor Harry Allen, Anthropologyn (2013)
  • Katharine de Montalk: 'Lisa Reihana’s Home in Motion.' (with Caroline Vercoe, 2012)
  • Jessica Jones: 'An Analysis of the work of Shane Cotton, 2002-12.' (with Caroline Vercoe, 2012)

* Honours dissertation (10,000 words) *

  • Lola Reynolds: Human Remains, Decolonisation and Te Papa Tongarewa.' (2016)
  • Samantha Keen: 'The Tattoo Studio as Museum.' (2016)
  • Talei Si'ilata: 'Dr. Augustin Krämer’s ethnological expedition in German Samoa (1897-1899).' (2016)
  • Katie Skinner: 'Commercial Art Dealers in Nazi Germany.' (2016)
  • Justine Treadwell: 'Variations of Taniko in Museums, 1750-1850.' (2016)
  • Courtney Wentz: 'Vandalism of the Rokeby Venus.' (2015)
  • Sara White: 'Digital Platforms for Accessing Indigenous Collections in Museums.' (2015)
  • Danelle Powell: 'Digitising Memory: Approaches in New Zealand Today' (2015)
  • Amanda Teo: 'Looting in the Middle East: Case Studies of Syria and Egypt.' (2013)
  • Daniel Rennie: ‘Subverting Colonialism and Empire at Te Papa: Using the Sacred and Profane to Elevate an Emergent Māori Culture as the Foundation of Aotearoa New Zealand’s National Identity.' [with Dr Mark Busse, Anthropology] (2013)
  • Jana Allen: 'Lonnie Hutchinson’s Black Pearl (2013).
  • Jean Fletcher: 'Fighting for Sculpture over the scraps: Investigating the disappearance of Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, 1969-70 and the ‘Grey’ market for Metals in Britain.' (2012)
  • Lydia Tebbutt: 'Māori Decoration in Anglican Churches in Auckland. (2012)
  • Charmaine Ho: 'Beijing 798: Contemporary Art in Beijing.' (2012)
  • Kororia Te Netana: 'A History of Ratana Flags.' (2012)

* Research projects (10,000 words) *

  • Talei Si'ilata: Samoan contemporary artists in the Museum: Greg Semu and Shigeyuki Kihara.
  • Justine Treadwell: 'Declaration on the Importance and Value of Local Museums: Gifting and Returning of Taonga in Local Museums in Aotearoa New Zealand (2016)

* Research essays (5,000 words) *

  • Sun Min Elle: 'Selected themes in the work of Do Ho Suh.' (2015)
  • Jazmine Tunstall: 'Postcard Motifs in Maori Art.' (2012)


2018: Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award, the University of Auckland.

2018: Faculty of Arts Early Career Research Award, the University of Auckland.

2018: With Natalie Robertson: Writing by Maori or Pacific Prize, Art Association of Australia and New Zealand, for A Whakapapa of Tradition.

2017: With Natalie Robertson: Judith Binney Prize for Illustrated Non-Fiction, Ockham Book Awards, Auckland, for A Whakapapa of Tradition. * Long-listed for Illustrated Non-Fiction, Ockhams, 2017.

2017: With Natalie Robertson: Mahi Toi Maori Arts Prize, Nga Kupu Ora Maori Book Awards, Wellington, for A Whakapapa of Tradition.

2017: With Natalie Robertson: Inaugural Best First Book Prize, New Zealand Historical Association, Auckland, for A Whakapapa of Tradition.

A Whakapapa of Tradition, Short-listed, Bert Roth Labour History Prize, 2017.


Convenor, Art History (2019-20)

Coordinator/Convenor and Graduate Adviser, Museums and Cultural Heritage Programme (2012-2017)

Coordinator, Tuākana Programme, Art History (2007-present)

Member, Te Whariki Equity Committee, School of Humanities. (2016-present)

Member, Postgraduate Committee, School of Humanities. (2016-present)

Postgraduate Adviser, Art History (2015-6, 2018-9)

Areas of expertise

  • Māori and Indigneous Art History and Architecture
  • Tribal Māori Carving, especially Ngāti Porou
  • Indigenous museology
  • Moko signatures
  • Art crime, particularly looting and theft in Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Indigenous women's art and visual culture

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Coordinator and Graduate Adviser, Museums and Cultural Heritage Programme, Faculty of Arts (2012-7)

Coordinator, Tuākana Programme (mentoring Māori and Pasifika students), Art History

Member, Equity Committee, School of Humanities

Member, Postgraduate Committee, School of Humanities

Member, Museums and Cultural Heritage Board of Studies (2013-present).

Member, Auckland Museum Nancy Bamford Museum Grants Committee (2014-present).

Trustee, The New Zealand Art Crime Trust (formed 2015).

Online editor, Toi Iho website (2014-present).

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Ellis, N., & Robertson, N. S. (2016). A Whakapapa of Tradition. One Hundred Years of Ngati Porou Carving, 1830-1930. Auckland: Auckland University Press. Pages: 328.
  • Ellis, N. (2016). Te ao hurihuri o ngā taonga tuku iho: The evolving worlds of our ancestral treasures. Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 39 (3), 438-460. 10.1353/bio.2016.0053
  • Ellis, N. G. (2016). Looting and Theft in Colonial-Era Aotearoa New Zealand. In A. Tompkins (Ed.) Art Crime and its Prevention: A Handbook for Collectors and Art Professionals. London: Lund Humphries. Related URL.
  • Ellis, N. (2015). Toitu te moko: Maintaining the integrity of the moko in the 19th century. Paper presented at Symposium: Gottfried Lindauer -- Painting New Zealand, Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany. 20 February - 21 February 2015. Related URL.
  • Ellis, N. (2014). Ki tō ringa ki ngā rākau ā te Pākehā? Drawings and signatures of moko by Māori in the early 19th century. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 123 (1), 29-66. 10.15286/jps.123.1.29-66
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/23425
  • Ellis, N. (2014). World domination of Maori art history? Theory or praxis. Paper presented at Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Art Educators (ANZAAE) 2014 Conference, Auckland, New Zealand. 15 July - 17 July 2014. Related URL.
  • Ellis, N. G. (2014). Maori self-portraiture. In Anne Allen, D. B. Waite (Eds.) Repositioning Pacific art: artists, objects, histories: proceedings of the VII International Symposium of the Pacific Arts Association, Christchurch, New Zealand (pp. 19-28). Canon Pyon: Sean Kingston Publishing.
  • Ellis, N. (2013). Neke atu! Art history as the new history. Paper presented at He Rau Tumu Korero. Maori Historians Symposium, Hamilton, New Zealand. 26 June - 26 June 2013.