Dream weavers: a new collection of contemporary Maori kete (baskets) acquired by the Australian Museum.
Ko tau rourou, ko taku rourou ka ora ai te Iwi
(Maori proverb: with your contribution, and my contribution success is assured for all)
There are approximately 60,000 objects in the museum’s Pacific collection which include representative material from across Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Included in these collections from the Pacific are 966 objects localized to New Zealand. Predominantly Maori material culture, it is the culmination of intermittent cultural exchanges between early explorers, collectors and traders in Poi Hakena or Port Jackson, as it was known to early Maori travelling to Sydney circa 1800’s.
Examples of Maori containers and hand-woven bags (or kete) feature in our collections provide us with an opportunity to explore traditional Maori weaving technology and practices with the oldest example collected in 1892 donated by Mr. Cavendish Liardet to the museum. Meanwhile the most recent example of kete was added to the collections in 1970 by the Mechanics Institute Museum, Hamilton N.Z an institute often regarded as a stepping stone to the formation of better known public libraries.
From a Maori perspective the kete lends itself to many cultural narratives as a receptacle of knowledge and wisdom. This ancient portrayal contained in the story of how Tane Mahuta (the God of Forest) obtained for all mankind the three kete of knowledge from Io, the supreme spiritual being. This cultural understanding applies to the term for leader or Rangatira Ranga translates to "weave", and Tira translates to "group". So leadership qualities must have collective concerns and aspirations at its centre. In a modern sense, the kete enables a traditional practice to be meaningful to contemporary communities by rejuvenating their tribal knowledge related to the gathering, production, use, and purpose to illustrate active value systems.
Nevertheless, given the limited collection sample of Maori bags in the collections it was necessary to expand this to include more contemporary expressions of this wonderful practice to illustrate artistic and cultural continuity. This is important when recent visits by Maori diasporic community members to the collections requested recent pieces of weaving to inform their kete making practices in NSW. The Cultural Collections team then responded to identify potential Maori weavers who could supply the museum with contemporary examples. Supported by the Gwendoline Bequest, the following artist was commissioned.
New Zealand artist Lisa Ward whose tribal affiliations include Ngati Porou, Te Arawa, and Ngati Awa. Is a contemporary Maori weaving artist, acclaimed in Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally for her weaving which integrates traditional and contemporary processes into modern woven works.
A skilled contemporary weaver, she was tutored by Sarni Scott from the Te Arawa tribal confederation in NZ – A Master tutor from Te Wananga o Aotearoa – an Indigenous NZ Tertiary Institution. Lisa’s recent works are in keeping with strong cultural and spiritual origins which display artistry, complexity and color.
"My perception of raranga is to not only to carry on this practice, but also ensure tikanga (customary concepts) and kawa (protocols) associated with the harvesting, and preparation of harakeke (flax) is strengthened. If we want this art form to survive, we must learn not only the practical side but the spiritual side also.” Remarked Lisa. Further, the easy work is weaving, 99% of weavers mahi (work) is in the preparation."
Weaving has been Lisa’a life. And in the last 10 years she has shared her experiences and artwork nationally and internationally through workshops, commissions, and exhibitions. She has exhibited a number of her works at Te Wananga o Aotearoa recently, and at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Lisa’s work can also be found in collections across N.Z and Australasia.
The commissioned collection comprises: kono (food baskets), kete whakairo (ornately patterned bags), kete mahi (everyday bags), the most basic raranga design, takitahi describes the technology of making the design over one under one to form a distinct checkerboard pattern when colored strips are woven into the work. The Cultural Collections team hopes to bring Lisa to the Australian Museum to illustrate her work practice during public programs, and build on intangible heritage of this collection.
The Australian Museum is delighted to acquire this collection of kete from Lisa to both increase the depth of collections in this particular art practice and provide stunning examples to inspire future generations of weavers.