Associate Professor Ngarino Ellis


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Associate Professor


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.

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:

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


My current focus is 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 late-2020. 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: 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. 

In 2020 my focus will shift to a new project entitled Nga Taonga o Wharawhara: The Worlds of Maori Body Adornment. Building on my 'Toi Te Mana' research, this project will bring together oral, taonga and archival research into the ceremonial, political and economic roles in Maori communities. I am interested in how adornments made from wood, bone, stone, shell and pounamu as well as harakeke and feathers were worn in and through the body, including mata whakarewa/skin painting, and to discover ancestral practices and taonga which can reveal new understandings of our past, as well as the importance of the continuum as adornments are made today.


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.

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 research I undertook on the life and work of 20th Century Master Carvers Pine and Hone Taiapa (Ngāti Porou).  

From my teaching of Art Crime (next on offer March 2020), 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, and most recently Vandalism and Censorship of Maori Carving. In 2015 I became a founding trustee of the Art Crime Research Trust whose 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 was in September 2019 and focused on Vandalism.

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:;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).



Teaching | Current

ARTHIST 230 Art Crime

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

ARTHIST 332 Art Crime

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

MUSEUMS 700 Exhibiting Cultures: International

MUSEUMS 704 Exhibiting Cultures

MUSEUMS 705 Exhibiting Cultures: Māori and Indigenous

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 - PhD - Constructing the 19th Century Whare.' [second supervisor with CAI]
  • [in progress, 2019-21] Miao Xu - PhD - ‘Chinese collections in New Zealand museums.’ [International student]
  • [in progress, 2019-21] Talei Si’ilata -PhD - ‘Developing an Indigenous Theoretical Framework for Decolonization of Art Historical Studies of Polynesian Material Culture.’ [second supervisor]
  • [in progress, 2019-21] Jess Mio - PhD - ‘Kaupapa Pakeha: Anti-colonial praxis amongst white people in Aotearoa’ [second supervisor with Maori Studies]
  • [in progress, 2019-2021] Justine Treadwell - PhD - 'Eighteenth-Century Kakahu Maori in European, British and Irish Museums.'
  • [in progress, 2019-20] Nierensche Perese-Kuil - MA - 'Indigenous art protest using traditional mediums of work.'
  • [in progress, 2019] Sara Picard - Honours dissertation - 'Intangible taonga: Digital technology and museum display.'
  • [in progress, 2019] Amber Rhodes - Honours research essay - 'Waipu Museum.'


  • Olivia Guyodo - MA - 'Images of Motherhood in French Impressionist Art.'
  • Sherry Paik - MA - 'Space in the work of three NZ-based East Asian Artists: Kerry Ann Lee, Jae Hoon Lee and Seung Yul Oh.'
  • Tamar McCambridge - Honours research essay - 'The Significance of the Honjō Masamune: Its Maker, Its Masters and Its Disappearance.'


  • Nelson Caban - MA - Working title: 'First Nations Curatorship: A Comparison between the NMAI and the U'Mista Centre' (2017-8). 
  • 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.' 
  • 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.'


* 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
  • 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.