Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 264.000 cm
Commissioned by Ms Dorota Czarkowska
Sponsored by The British Museum
A wooden figure, by Lyonel Grant
Maori, AD 1997
From New Zealand, Polynesia
Maori wood carving is now flourishing, despite a decline at the beginning of the twentieth century, which was partly due to a fall in the Maori population. The School of Maori Arts and Crafts was established in Rotorua in 1926 to train carvers and thereby revive the art. It was closed during the Second World War, re-opening in 1965 as the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute.
This male wooden figure was carved by the Maori artist Lyonel Grant (born 1957) from Rotorua, of the Ngati Pikiao division of Te Arawa. Grant was a student of the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute before becoming a full-time artist in 1984. The figure is part of a series of contemporary artefacts which were commissioned or purchased in 1993 and 1994 by Dorota Starzecka, a former British Museum curator. It was included in the Museum's major exhibition of Maori art and culture which opened in 1998.
The figure is carved from totara (Podocarpus totara) wood. The face is carved in the pakati style incorporating notches and ridges, suggestive of tattooing. The eyes and navel are inlaid with iridescent haliotis shell. The body is inscribed '1840 Waitangi', referring to the Treaty of Waitangi of 1840 signed by British and Maori representatives, concerning the ownership of land. The Maori word for land, whenua, is the same as that for placenta. The placenta of this figure extends from the body to link with the base, which represents land. It is Maori practice for the placenta to be buried soon after childbirth. Grant describes this carving as an expression of the Maori affinity with the land.
D.C. Starzecka (ed.), Maori art and culture, 2nd ed. (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
S. Adsett, C. Whiting and W. Ihimaera (eds.), Mataora, the living face: cont (Auckland, David Bateman Ltd, 1996)