Contemporary art work pays homage to ancient Maori navigator

Published on : Monday, November 27, 2017

unnamed (1)One man’s artistic homage to his ancient ancestor has inspired one of New Zealand’s most extraordinary works of art.

On the shores of Lake Taupo – which Māori refer to as the beating heart of New Zealand’s North Island – the Mine Bay rock carvings have become one of New Zealand’s most popular cultural tourism destinations.

The carvings depict the visionary Māori navigator Ngatoroirangi who guided his people – the Tūwharetoa and Te Arawa tribes – across the Pacific in a traditional double-hulled waka or wooden canoe almost a thousand years ago.

It took an astounding four years to complete the Mine Bay carvings, sculpted into a rock face 14m above the water, but it wasn’t long before tourists began finding their way across the lake to view the work.

Work on the carvings, designed and created by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, On the shores of Lake Taupo the Mine Bay rock carvings have become one of New Zealand’s most popular cultural tourism destinations.

“I am the 27th generation to Ngatoroirangi,” said Brightwell. “He navigated the Te Aroha canoe, which all the Te Arawa tribes descend from. Eight hundred years ago he arrived in this area and I wanted to commemorate that. That’s how it began.”

Brightwell said he was out on the lake and saw a huge rocky alcove, and inspiration struck. “It was like this voice called out. I saw an image of a tattooed face and I decided I would sculpt Ngatoroirangi.”

An orally taught artist, Brightwell’s first step was putting together a tattoo plan for the image of Ngatoroirangi. He also wanted to demonstrate the Te Arawa style of art, a traditional art form unchanged over the centuries.

“I did many sketch plans but the main thing I had to come up with was how to put it onto the stone. So I had to clear all the rock face to make it level and we had to clear it away all by hand. I decided to use three-tier scaffold and one piece of string, with a weight at the end to give me a line through the centre,” he said.
The main carving at Mine Bay in Lake Taupo is over 10 metres high and took four summers to complete.Brightwell had three others working on the three levels of the scaffolding and he could tell by the sound of the tapping if something wasn’t quite right.

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