What is it about birds that resonate so deeply with us? For Sofia Minson, birds feature significantly in her work. They are messengers that soar into her paintings carrying life lessons and wisdom.
With the release of Sofia’s latest work, Ruru (which features our native owl as the central figure), we thought it fitting to share the meaning and significance that birds hold in the artwork.
Birds in Māori culture
“Birds had a vital place in traditional Māori life, providing food, and feathers for adornment and cloaks. Their habits were closely observed, and were a rich source of metaphor and poetry. Birds’ behaviour was used to predict the weather, and sometimes the future.”
-Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
In Māori culture, birds are often seen to foretell the future, with their call or arrival thought to bring good or bad luck, such as the Tarāpunga warning of attack, the Kōmiromiro heralding good news, or the cry of the Ruru signifying guardianship, forewarning and wisdom.
“What connects with me so deeply is the role of birds in Māori whakatauki (proverbs). In these lessons passed down, how a bird acts informs how we are as people, often teaching us how we can live and interact in the world.”
- Sofia Minson
What can we learn from these creatures?
As an artist, the way Sofia relates most powerfully to birds is through whakatauki or her own interpretation of a bird as a symbol.
Our inner journey
In many ways, birds can teach us about our journey in life. Heart of the Kaka was inspired by the whakatauki “Te tōrino haere whakamua, whakamuri", meaning "at the same time as the spiral is going forward, it is returning.”
The double spiral on the chest of the Kākā bird symbolises life’s journey forward, which ultimately takes us to the centre of ourselves. The Kākā has become a kaumatua (esteemed elder) full of mana (dignity), framed by a sense of history.
As a culture and as individuals our past is often rocky and complex, however this regal bird is unveiling its beauty and splendour, to remind us that with perspective, we can take the best of our past forward with us, to become more integrated, authentic people.
Finding balance in life
In Aroha Mai, Aroha Atu, the whakatauki the painting is named after means ‘love received, love returned’, describing balance and symmetry. As an extinct bird, there is an ancestral quality about the Huia, making it exist more in the realm of the spiritual, adorned with fine detailed symbols around it, interacting with the surreal landscape of Queenstown.
It teaches us about the ways in which opposite – positive and negative, darkness and light, male and female – are present in all things, existing in balance of one another.
Our role as protectors of the natural world
The Huia bird continues to feature as an important personal symbol in Sofia’s work.
Huia hold profound cultural meaning, but one way to interpret is around our responsibility to protect the taonga (treasures) of our land.
Often, birds can remind us of our own responsibility as kaitiaki (guardians) of the natural world. In Rain Falling on Sunshine, Sofia wanted to celebrate the evolution of spring time, while also layering with an important ecological message, of our role as protectors of the land and its living creatures.
The power of art in our journey of self-discovery
Messengers, teachers, guardians – what can birds teach us about who we are and our place in the world?
Whether it be about acknowledging and accepting light and darkness, navigating life’s inner journey, or protecting the sacred natural world we live in, there are important lessons we can take with us.
“In essence, all my works are about telling stories and nature has always played a central role in my creative work. Whether it be a mountain, a bull, or a bird, I interpret it as a symbol, often holding profound cosmic significance."
- Sofia Minson