Ever since I was a child, I’ve been drawn to Maori design and have wanted to own some Maori sculpture. Last year My wife and I were in Auckland New Zealand on a stop over from a trip to the US and Mexico, so I thought it would be a good time to buy some Maori art.
I had foolishly assumed that buying a Maori wood carving would be simple. Firstly we went to the excellent Auckland Art Gallery to get a general feeling for the quality of traditional Maori art. After a couple of hours at the Art Gallery we went downtown and had a look in the various gift shops and galleries selling Maori carvings.
Chinese people, not born in New Zealand, who didn’t have a clue about what they were selling, owned most of the gift shops. A lot of what was presented to us was crudely carved and very expensive. To add insult to injury, the carvings, as poor as they were, were consistently handled in a very rough manner, further damaging them right before our eyes. Many of the storeowners seemed to be displaying an absolute contempt for the Maori carvings they were selling.
It can be argued that most indigenous art that is for sale, anywhere, tends to be “traditional” in that old designs are copied and there doesn’t seem to be mich room for innovation. In other words, much “native” art tends to be more about skillful craft than artistic expression.
After half a day of depressing traipsing from gift shop to gift shop I was about to give up any hope of buying any Maori art at all. Luckily we stumbled across a very small gallery called “Gallery Pacific“. The gallery’s main window had some local art glass and at first it didn’t catch our eye. Then my wife saw a beautiful Moko (Maori face tattoos) Mask by John Collins, carved from kauri that just knocked our socks off.
It was so different and so much more interesting than anything else, Maori, we had seen. Inside there were a few even grander and more expressive pieces that were way out of our price range. After much deliberation we bought the Moko mask for three times more than the budget we had allocated for such a purchase.