Associate Professor Ngarino Ellis

FRSA, PhD, MA (Hons), BA/LLB.

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Associate Professor


Ko Rakaumangamanga te maunga, ko Ipipiri te moana, ko Te Rawhiti te marae, ko Ngati Kuta te hapu, ko Ngapuhi te iwi. Ara,

Ko Hikurangi te maunga, ko Waiapu te moana, ko Tai Rawhiti me O Hine Waiapu nga marae, ko Ngai Tane me Te Whanau-a-Takimoana nga hapu, ko Ngati Porou te iwi.

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.


Research | Current

  • Māori and indigneous art history and architecture
  • Nga Taonga o Wharawhara: 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 to be published in 2021. This seeks to write a 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:

In 2020 I began a new project entitled Nga Taonga o Wharawhara: The Worlds of Maori Body Adornment which was funded through the Royal Society. 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).

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. We hold our symposium annually - in 2019 the focus was on Vandalism and in 2021 on May 29 presenters will examine ways to prevent art crime.

Other 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 (*not on offer until 2022 at least)

ARTHIST 332 Art Crime

ARTHIST 333 The Art of Gender Politics (*not on offer until 2022 at least)

MUSEUMS 700 Exhibiting Cultures: International (on offer 2020; not on offer 2021)

MUSEUMS 704 Exhibiting Cultures

MUSEUMS 705 Exhibiting Cultures: Māori and Indigenous (on offer 2020; on offer 2021)

Postgraduate supervision

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


* PhD

  • Miao Xu - ‘Chinese collections in New Zealand museums.’ [International student] 2019-
  • Justine Treadwell - 'Eighteenth-Century Kakahu Maori in European, British and Irish Museums.' 2019-
  • Andrew McKay - 'Thomas Cheeseman, Auckland Museum' 2020-
  • Talei Si’ilata - ‘Developing an Indigenous Theoretical Framework for Decolonization of Art Historical Studies of Polynesian Material Culture.’ [second supervisor] 2019-
  • Jess Mio - ‘Kaupapa Pakeha: Anti-colonial praxis amongst white people in Aotearoa’ [second supervisor with Maori Studies] 2019-

* MA

  • Taniora Maxwell - The emancipation: Taonga Māori returned to Iwi post-settlement’  
  • Renee Hau - ‘Revealing messages of Māori Adornment: A Rangahau Journey  Through Māori Oral Histories’ 
  • Sara Picard - 'The display of the difficult histories in NZ Museums.'
  • Mia-Mae Taitimu-Stevens - 'Taonga at auction: A History.'

* Honours dissertation (10,000 words) *

  • Erin Lee, Collecting practices of early missionaries and how attitudes towards sexuality impacted on their collections
  • Amy Lewis, National and community museums in Mexico and the collection and display of Indigenous cultures
  • Starr Ratapu, Maori Built Heritage - topic to be confirmed.
  • Vida Quivooy, working title: Museum activism for environmental protection
  • Sarah Bradley, Online exhibitions in the Covid environment.
  • Eliza Macdonald, Women collectors of taonga Maori


* PhD

  • Jeremy Treadwell - Constructing the 19th Century Whare.' Architecture. 2020
  • Marine Vallee - 'Exhibiting French Polynesia: A comparative approach of representation through museums and gallery spaces' 2018
  • Marvin Wu - 'Challenges in Cross-cultural Tourism: New Zealand Museums and Chinese Visitor Experience' 2018

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

  • Nierensche Perese-Kuil, 'Indigenous Art, Sovereignty and Activism.’ 2020
  • Olivia Guyodo, 'Images of Motherhood in French Impressionist Art.' 2019
  • Sherry Paik, 'Space in the work of three NZ-based East Asian Artists: Kerry Ann Lee, Jae Hoon Lee and Seung Yul Oh.' 2019
  • Nelson Caban, 'First Nations Curatorship: A Comparison between the NMAI and the U'Mista Centre' (2017-8). 
  • 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, Anthropology (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) *

  • Suzanne Janissen, 'Scientific approaches to the authentication of art: Do continuing developments spell the end of the connoisseur?' 2020
  • Sara Picard - 'Intangible taonga: Digital technology and museum display.' 2019
  • Amber Rhodes - 'Waipu Museum.' (2019)
  • Catriona Britton - 'Tracing Taonga: An Examination of Kingitanga Taonga Held at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.' (2017)
  • Marie Helliwell - 'The Display of Indigenous Cultures. A comparative case study between New Zealand, Australia, and Canada'(2017)
  • Jade Le Petit - 'An assessment of how the Economic Climate has impacted on the archaeological record of ancient Egyptian sites from 2009-2016.' (2017)
  • Leah Morris - 'Repatriation of human remains: Balancing the needs of the people against the wants of the scientist. A case study approach.' (2017)
  • Nierensche Perese-Kuli - ''The use of social media by indigenous artists' (2017)
  • 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) *

  • Tamar McCambridge  'The Significance of the Honjō Masamune: Its Maker, Its Masters and Its Disappearance.' 2019
  • Sun Min Elle: 'Selected themes in the work of Do Ho Suh.' (2015)
  • Jazmine Tunstall: 'Postcard Motifs in Maori Art.' (2012)


  • 2020 Royal Society Early Career Research Excellence Award for Humanities
  • 2019 Award for Sustained Excellence in Tertiary Teaching – Kaupapa Maori category. Ako Aotearoa. $20,000. One of two awards in this category. 
  • 2018 Sustained Excellence in Teaching Award, the University of Auckland.
  • 2018 Faculty of Arts Early Career Research Award, the University of Auckland.


  • 2019. Nga Taonga a Wharawhara: The World of Maori Body Adornment. Principal Investigator /PI (sole). The University of Auckland
  • 2012. Toi Te Mana: A History of Indigenous Art from Aotearoa New Zealand. PI along with Deidre Brown (NICAI) and Jonathan Mane-Wheoki. The University of Auckland
  • 2001. Ta Moko: Culture, Body Modification and the Psychology of Identity. PI (early career) along with Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Linda Waimarie Nikora. Waikato University.


  • 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.


  • Convenor, Art History (2019-20)
  • Coordinator/Convenor and Graduate Adviser, Museums and Cultural Heritage Programme (2012-2017)
  • Subject Expert Group, Art History, Ministry of Education
  • Pasifika Advisory Group, Melbourne Museum refit of the Pasifika Gallery
  • Gus Fisher Gallery Board (2019-20)
  • University of Auckland Arts Acquisition Committee (2019-20)
  • Coordinator, Tuākana Programme, Art History (2007-present)
  • Member, Te Whariki Equity Committee, School of Humanities. (2016-2019)
  • 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

  • Trustee, The New Zealand Art Crime Trust (2015-present).
  • Member, Museums and Cultural Heritage Board of Studies (2013-2018).
  • Member, Auckland Museum Nancy Bamford Museum Grants Committee (2014-2018).
  • Online editor, Toi Iho website (2014-present).

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

As of 29 October 2020 there will be no automatic updating of 'selected publications and creative works' from Research Outputs. Please continue to keep your Research Outputs profile up to date.
  • Ellis, N. (2016). Looting and theft in colonial-era Aotearoa / New Zealand. In A. Tompkins (Ed.) Art crime and its prevention (pp. 148-160). London, UK: Lund Humphries, in association with the Association for Research into Crimes Against Art.
  • 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. (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.