A wooden figure, by Lyonel Grant

Wooden figure by Lyonel Grant

Height: 264.000 cm

AOA 1994.Oc4.117

This male wooden figure was carved by the Maori artist Lyonel Grant (born 1957) from Rotorua. Grant was a student of the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute before becoming a full-time artist in 1984.

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.

Grant describes it as expressing Maori affinity with their land. In the Maori language, the word for land is the same as that for placenta, whenua, and it is Maori practice for the placenta to be buried soon after childbirth. In Aotearoa today the politics of land rights are focused on the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by many Maori chiefs and representatives of the British Crown in 1840. Grant has inscribed '1840 Waitangi' on the body of this carving.

Maori wood carving is now flourishing. 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 figure was commissioned for the British Museum's 1998 Maori exhibition. For Maori people, objects made by their ancestors are revered as treasures, taonga, and connect them to past generations.