Dr Ngarino Ellis


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Senior Lecturer


Since 1997 Ngarino has been working in the field of Māori art history. This area encompasses Māori art, architecture and culture from c800 to the present day, and includes both marae and gallery based practices. Within this field, she has concentrated primarily on pre-1900 art, especially tribal carving traditions, decorated churches and moko.

The focus of her PhD (2012) was the Iwirakau Carving School of the East Coast from 1830-1930. This was published (2016) by Auckland University Press as A Whakapapa of Tradition. A Century of Ngāti Porou Carving 1830-1930 with new photography by Natalie Robertson (AUT). An interview about this with Wallace Chapman (20.03.2016) can be heard here. And a story in Te Wiwi Nati can be read here. Their book won the Judith Binney Prize for Best First Book Illustrated Non-Fiction at the Ockham Book Awards 2017 which we are just so excited about. An interview on Te Kaea (Maori Television) can be viewed here

In 2013 she began a three-year Marsden-funded project with other principal investigators Deidre Brown and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (both NICAI) entitled "Toi Te Mana. A History of Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand". 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. In 2017 they are focused on writing up our findings. For more see here: http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/2012/10/25/brown/. She have spoken about it at the Art Association of Australia and New Zealand annual conference in Canberra (Dec 2016), and will do so again at the Remembering Jonathan Symposium in Wellington on Sat 29 July 2017. 

Indigenous biography is also a current research interest. She 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 she thinks 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). She will be talking about Papa Pine as part of a talk entitled 'Carving new traditions: Pine Taiapa and the Rotorua School of Maori Arts and Crafts' on Tues 13 June 2017 at the University of Auckland. Information about this can be accessed here

From my teaching of Art Crime, She has become interested in New Zealand's history of this. Recently she has discussed the history of art theft within Maori culture (see chapter in The Art Crime Handbook, 2016) and is keen to foster national interest in this field. To this end in 2015 she 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 2016 they held our second Symposium at the City Gallery; a link to the Symposium webpage is here: https://artcrime.nz/symposium-2016/

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 her role as Coordinator of the Museums and Cultural Heritage programme she has been examining different approaches to the world of museums. In particular she has 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 Masters of Heritage Conservation students. More information about the Programme and its new 18-month Master's Programme can be found here: http://www.arts.auckland.ac.nz/en/about/subjects-and-courses/museums-and-cultural-heritage.html


Research | Current

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


Toi Te Mana: Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand. 

> Principal Investigator with Professor Jonathan Mane-Wheoki (NICAI) and Associate-Professor Deidre Brown (NICAI). 2013-6. * to be published with Auckland University Press.

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 Nga Taonga Sound and Vision which will be integral to this project.

> 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.

Maori Personal Adornment: A History.

This field is so rich yet so little writing by Maori 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 address this. Working collaboratively with two Maori artists, this work will see a multi-disicplinary approach applied to explore, expose and understand different aspects of Maori personal adornment. This is very much in its infancy stage, but will be fast-tracked over summer with the appointment of a University of Auckland Summer Scholar for 2016-7 who will identify and record Maori personal adornment in known literature, as well as in Maori textual narratives, eg Nga Moteatea which is a rich and exciting repository for stories of wearers, makers and forms of Maori personal adornment.


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 Ngarino's papers in the Art History department since 2010 (ARTHIST 230/332 on offer semester 1, 2017). 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.

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

> Conference presentation 'Maori 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 'Maori 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

ARTHIST 233 Gender, Ethnicity and Visual Culture

ARTHIST 238 Mana Taonga: Tradition and Innovation in Māori Art

ARTHIST 332 Art Crime

ARTHIST 333 Gender, Ethnicity and Visual Culture

ARTHIST 338 Mana Taonga: Tradition and Innovation in Māori Art

ARTHIST 730AB Topics in Māori and Pacific Art and Visual Culture

ARTHIST 736 Critical Issues in Māori Art

MUSEUMS 705 Exhibiting Cultures: Māori and Indigenous

Postgraduate supervision

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


  • Catriona Britton - Honours dissertation - Working title: 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* submitted
  • Jade Le Petit - Honours dissertation - Working title: 'An assessment of how the Economic Cliate has impacted on the archaeological record of ancient Egyptian sites from 2009-2016.' 
  • Leah Morris - Honours dissertation - 'Repatriation of human remains: Blancing the needs of the people against the wants of the scientist. A case study approach.' * submitted
  • Nierensche Perese-Kuli - Honours dissertation - Working title: The use of social media by indigenous artists 
  • Nelson Caban - MA - Working title: 'First Nations Curatorship: A Comparison between the NMAI and the U'Mista Centre' (2017-8)
  • 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.' (due October 2017)
  • Jeremy Treadwell - PhD - 'Constructing the 19th Century Whare.' [second supervisor, NICAI]
  • Marine Vallee - PhD - 'Exhibiting French Polynesia: A comparative approach of representation through museums and gallery spaces' [second supervisor, due to submit 2017]
  • Marvin Wu - PhD - 'Visitor experiences: A Comparison between China and New Zealand.' [second supervisor, due to submit early 2018]


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

  • Kristina Chan: '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)


Winner (with Natalie Robertson, AUT), Judith Binney Prize for Illustrated Non-Fiction, Ockham Book Awards, Auckland, 2017.


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

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)

Graduate Adviser, Art History (2015-6)

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

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, 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. (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. G. (2013). Waiapu ki pakowhai ki otakou: Travelling the paths of our Tipuna Whakairo. Paper presented at New Zealand Historical Association Conference, Dunedin, New Zealand. 20 November - 22 November 2013. Related URL.
  • Ellis, N. G. (2012). 'No hea koe? Where are you from?' Maori Meeting Houses Overseas. In W. Kopke, B. Schmelz (Eds.) House Rauru: masterpiece of the Maori (pp. 419-435). Hamburg, Germany: Museum fur Volkerkunde Hamburg.

Contact details

Office hours

By appointment.

Primary location

Level 7, Room 737
New Zealand

Web links