For my second non-western artwork review, I decided to focus on traditional artwork from the Maori people of New Zealand. New Zealand is on the top of my list of next places to travel, and I enjoyed paging through their many interesting and beautiful pieces of artwork. I had a hard time finding a lot of reading material on the Maori people, and I think that viewing their artwork across the ages helps to give me a better understanding of who they are as a people group.
The piece that I choose to focus on is a house post figure. You can view a photograph of this piece at http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1979.206.1508.
House post figures are carvings on the Amo, or support structures on the meeting house. The meeting houses in the Maori community continue to serve as a very important focal points. They hold many purposes including council chambers, guest houses, community centers, and simple common gathering spaces for important events and places to discuss issues within the community. Yet another purpose of the meeting houses is to preserve the communities history and genealogy in order to educate future generations. The house post figures play an important part of the later role. The form of the meeting house itself represents the body of a primordial ancestor.
The piece you can see if you follow the link provided above is carved from wood, and stands at 43 inches in height. The exact date of creation is unknown, but estimated to be around 1800 A.D. The artist for this piece is unknown. This figure was once a panel at a Maori meeting house in the Te Arawa region, and it may portray an ancient warrior. The figure seems engaged in a war dance of sorts, and his tongue is stuck out in defiance and aggression. This depiction of the human warrior is common in the Maori artwork. Other similar figures can be found at http://www.maori.info/maori_art.htm.
My personal reaction to this figure is on of interest and amusement. While I don’t know if I would call this piece beautiful (indeed, I am not sure that was the artists intent to begin with), I think it holds a great display of talent and emotion. It also expresses some of the vast culture differences around the world. For example, I would be surprised if the US troops us their tongues as a common display of defiance.