This portrait of my Ngati Porou great-grandmother "Matire Te Horowai" wearing traditional Victorian dress and moko kauae (chin tattoo) speaks volumes about our cultural history.
In the heart of New Zealand's capital, two of my artworks are on show at Bowen House Parliament Building in Wellington - with The Real Opotiki Exhibition from 8 Feb - 31 Mar 2017.
Matire Te Horowai lived in the East Cape of the North Island in the late 19th century - an era of heavy Europeanisation where there was severe juxtapositions of indigenous and colonising cultures, yet intermarriage managed to occur.
Lost in translation
Matire's second marriage was to an immigrant Irishman, my great-grandfather John McGhee, and they had four children. She was first married to a Maori man and had four children to him too!
To our knowledge from the stories passed down, Matire didn't speak English and John didn't speak Maori, yet they found a way to communicate and we even read old letters (the original facebook!) where they were described as having quarrels in two different languages with Matire deciding to leave the house and take the furniture with her down the long steep driveway. Apparently they would usually reconcile and the furniture and Matire would make their way up the hill again towards home.
Ongoing connection to ancestors
Matire's pounamu (greenstone) earrings and manaia pendants, which can be seen hanging from delicate threads in the background, symbolise Te Here Tangata - The Rope of Mankind. This is a humbling concept, in which you can visualise a rope or vine stretching into the past for generations, until the instant of creation and on into the future. This thread connects ancestors with ourselves and future generations to come.
Taking part in the exhibition is an honour for me, because we are donating proceeds to build a brand new library and tech centre in Opotiki.
I'm based in Auckland but thanks to us spending nearly every Christmas in Opotiki with my grandparents May and Harry Hermanson while I was growing up, my paintings have been deeply inspired by the myths and land of Aotearoa.
I was fortunate to live in many places during my childhood due to my father's engineering project management work. We moved between Auckland, Samoa, Sri Lanka and China, which as a young person who already had a mixed whakapapa of Ngati Porou, Swedish, English and Irish, caused me to ask the question: what culture and land do I belong to? Spending those quiet yet memorable times in Opotiki has grounded me and helped me during my teenage years, to answer these fundamental questions of identity.
Aotearoa: Our land, voyaging myths and origins
My second artwork in the exhibition "From Rangiatea" expresses the connection I feel to the land, myths and voyaging history of Aotearoa. It is the calm after the storm. It talks of mythical Maori homelands, and whispers the legend of Kupe, the great Polynesian navigator.
The ancient waka is depicted here with its carved stern and bow, resting upon the shores of Aotearoa after its immense journey. Two pouakai eagles - a large native species with a wingspan of up to 3 metres that went extinct c.1400 A.D. - are shown flying to greet the newly arrived vessel.
Kupe and his crew encountered many obstacles on their long voyage from their homeland Rangiatea, or Hawaiiki as other iwi remember it. They battled an enraged, monstrous Octopus and treacherous seas until eventually, Kupe's wife Hine Te Aparangi sighted land naming it Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud, becoming the first to discover Aotearoa.
As Kupe and the crew of the Matawhaorua leave the waka to explore the discovered land, this painting gives the sense that although the people are gone, the spirit and memory of their great voyage remains.
The Real Opotiki Exhibition
Bowen House Parliament Building in Wellington
Open free to the public 9th February – 31st March 2017
Posted by artist Sofia Minson from NewZealandArtwork.com
New Zealand Maori portrait and landscape oil painting