The artwork of Rachael Rakena, a Maori artist from New Zealand, is both ethereal and political in nature, harmonizing two opposing concepts through digital art. As a Maori person, Rachael uses digital art forms to contribute to the discussions on contemporary Maori art (and artists). Using such technologies, Rachael combines traditional Maori philosophies and contemporary ideas of identity, to create a continuum and movement in the spaces of her work.
One of Rachael’s artworks, Pacific Flower (2008) is a series of digital still images, where the women floating in water are warped and fragmented to create geometric shapes of themselves. Given the name, Pacific Flower, the viewer is left to assume that the women in the works are either of Maori descent, or of another Indigenous culture from the Pacific region, specifically, those who would call themselves Polynesian. The use of water in not just this piece, but all of the artists’ works, is important to her personally, as it is a tribal space, that presents the Maori identity as one that is deeply connected to not just the land, but the water around the land, as well as acting like an amniotic fluid, metaphorically protecting the culture of her people.
A work that both promotes the use of digital mediums and playing with natural elements, Rachael Rakena’s Pacific Flower series also uses these mediums to emphasize on her cultural identity. Digital imagery, a contemporary art form, and water, a natural element that has been around forever, compliment the nature behind the artists’ work; one of finding a balance with keeping a cultural identity alive, in an ever-changing and contemporising world.
Contemporary art and technology are filled with new ideas, innovations. Many artists prefer to focus on new medias or changing aesthetics, but it is possible to create work that is both new and traditional. Artists such as Ngatai Taepa and Sonny Assu use aesthetic elements from their Indigenous cultures, Māori and Kwakwa̱ka̱'wakw respectively, to create a dialogue between tradition and modern.
Using traditional elements such as the kōwhaiwhai pattern, Taepa’s works merge forms inspired by nature, and recreates them in his own way, exploring “positive and negative space, line work, the pītau [plant shoot] and the kape [eyebrow] patterns, and the way they were originally laid down.” The artist preserves the knowledge of these patterns and traditions, but now for new audiences and interpretations. The work “Tane Pupuke” (2014) for example, is visually reminiscent of a circuit board, but still maintains the distinct kōwhaiwhai pattern.
Where Taepa’s natural forms take on the look of technological elements, artist Sonny Assu takes tech objects, such as iPods, and bends the devices and earphones to become fluid shapes, interacting with traditional shapes found in Northwest Coast art. In his series “iDrum”, Assu combines the tradition of image (for example, ovoids) and object (the drum) with representations of the ‘new’ image and object; today, the iPod has replaced the drum as music creator, but the iPod does not hold the same spiritual and cultural value as the drum. Through these works, Assu creates “dialogue towards the use of consumerism, branding and technology as totemic representation”, often with a hint of humour.
The koru (Māori for “loop”) is a spiral shape based on the shape of a new unfurling silver fern frond and symbolizing new life, growth, strength and peace. It is an integral symbol in Māori art, carving and tattoos. The circular shape of the koru helps to convey the idea of perpetual movement while the inner coil suggests a return to the point of origin.
Koru is the integral central motif of symbolic, seemingly-abstract kowhaiwhai designs, traditionally used to decorate Maori wharenui (meeting houses). There are numerous semi-formal designs, representing different features of the natural world.
Koru can also refer to bone carvings. Those generally take the shape of the uncurling fern plant. When bone is worn on the skin, it changes colour as oil is absorbed. The Māori took this to symbolise that the spirit of the person was inhabiting the pendant. When someone gives a pendant to someone else, it is the custom that they wear it for a time so that part of their spirit is given as well.
lies beneath? Strength. Pride. Guidance. Your whakapapa. Two sides,
forever together in your heart, your wairua. It makes you who you are,
and makes you an important part of your whanau’s journey. Nothing is
stronger than the love for your whanau, your family. Together, the
strength is immense. Bring in your whakapapa, your tupuna, the strength
is impenetrable. Trust in your tupuna for mauriora. They are there
together for you. They lie within your soul. Unseen, but with great
force they preside, yet peaceful and loving. Calm and majestic. Like two
whales in the ocean.