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Prophets, Portents and Protectors

Events > Exhibitions

Brett Rangitaawa
at Zimmerman Art Gallery
1 Mar 2015 - 31 Mar 2015

Added by Zimmerman

Last year, Zimmerman Art Gallery introduced the metal sculptures of Wellington artist, Brett Rangitaawa. Since that time, Rangitaawa has developed a new body of bronze and aluminium works, which are on display at Zimmerman for the month of March.

Titled Prophets, Portents and Protectors, this second exhibition features a series of sculptures that draw on Rangitaawa’s study of whakairo (Maori traditional art), as well as symbols from history and legend.

Prophets ...

Rangitaawa’s exhibition includes two bronze prophet sculptures, inspired by the early leaders of Parihaka.

Parihaka is a small Taranaki settlement, 55 km south west of New Plymouth. Founded during the government land confiscations of the 1860s, Parihaka was led by the Maori prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi.

Te Whiti and Tohu advocated a non-violent response to the taking of Maori land.

Around 1866, Brett Rangittaawa's great grandfather, TeNgatata Rangitaawa, was one of 12 apostles sent to live at Parihaka. The intent was to strengthen the bonds between the Waikato and Taranaki Maori, who were opposed to further land sales to the government or white settlers.

Following government land confiscations in the late 1870s, the people of Parihaka responded by pulling out government survey pegs, barricading roads, and ploughing the land. As government troops came to arrest and imprison the people, more people came from other settlements to take their place.

Concerned at the growing level of Maori support for Parihaka, in 1881 the government sent in troops to break up the community and arrest the prophets, Te Whiti and Tohu. The prophets remained in exile from the community at Parihaka until 1883, when the government finally granted them permission to return home.

Today, Te Whiti and Tohu are recognized as two of the foremost world leaders of the passive resistance movement. In 2003, the prophets received posthumous recognition, by an international delegation of representatives of Martin Luther King Junior, Mahatma Gandhi and Daisaku Ikeda, for their foundational work and sacrifice as fathers of non-violent action.

Portents ...

In ancient cultures, birds were considered divine creatures, perceived as being able to move between heaven and the earth. Their feathers were often viewed as symbols of spiritual communication, signifying ascension to a higher realm.

In traditional Maori thought, birds were the children of Tane, god of the forest. The feathers of certain birds were highly prized, with some feathers, such as the tail feathers of the now extinct huia, worn only by chiefs of high rank.

At the Taranaki settlement of Parihaka, white feathers came to symbolise the passive resistance movement led by the prophets Te Whiti and Tohu.

One account tells of an albatross descending onto Parihaka, leaving behind a single white feather. The visitation was taken as signifying the sanction of the Holy Spirit on the growing movement at Parihaka, and on the two prophets who were to lead it. A single white albatross feather is the community’s symbol of peace, while a plume of three white feathers is understood to represent the philosophy of Parihaka, as captured in the biblical passage “Glory to God, peace on earth, and goodwill to all men” (Luke 2:14).

Protectors ...

In Maori mythology, kaitiaki are guardians and conservers, offering protection of people, places and resources.

A kaitaki may be a creature, a person, or a supernatural being. Kaitaki are not able to be bribed or swayed; it is their role to protect and preserve for future generations.

Rangitaawa’s kaitaki take form as a series of solemn supernatural beings, part-human, part-bird. Evocative of WD Hammond’s paintings of birdlike creatures, in Rangitaawa’s hands the birdmen manifest as solid three-dimensional forms.  

Selected images from this exhibition:
Prophet III (2014), bronze, 520mm, 14.2kg and Prophet II (2014), bronze, 420mm, 8.3kg
Blackbird Feather - Triple (2014), bronze, 270mm, 2.2kg
Wherowhero II (2014), aluminium, 540mm, 8.06kg



2014_blackbird_triple 2014_wherowhero_ii

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