Magazine article Sunset

Maoris and Their Art in San Francisco, New Zealand

Magazine article Sunset

Maoris and Their Art in San Francisco, New Zealand

Article excerpt

Sacred art treasures of New Zealand's Maori people go on display this month in San Francisco. It's the show's only West Coast stop and the first time such works have left their homeland--the Maori venerate these objects and have never before let them travel. As well as describing highlights of the show, on page 44 we list three spots in New Zealand where visitors can learn about Maori culture and art.

In San Francisco:

174 prized works of art

Called "Te Maori: Maori Art from New Zealand Collections," the show runs from July 10 through December 1 at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum. You'll see 174 items--including jewelry, musical instruments, and tools representing more than 30 tribes.

Most items are decorated with carving, a sacred art to all Polynesian peoples but brought to remarkable heights by the Maori. There are items of greenstone (nephrite jade or bowenite), shell, ivory, and soft totara wood. Most striking are the burial chests, gateposts, a war canoe prow, and meeting house posts.

The show reflects the early Maoris' war-like nature, the importance of ocean fishing, and their community-oriented society--strictly ruled by myth, tradition, and concepts of religious restrictions (tapu) and prestige or power (mana).

On the carved objects, humans are the commonest motif. Note the disproportionately large heads and three-fingered hands (distortion was deliberate, according to one authority, to avoid carving the exact human likeness). Some figures have stuck-out tongues and bulding eyes; they're warriors, meant to serve as guardians. You'll also see carved whales, lizards, and mermaids.

On July 10, a lecture on Maori art starts at 7 P.M., followed by music and dance at 8. On July 13, there'll be a carving demonstration at noon, a lecture at 2, and music and dance at 12:30 and 3.

This show was organized by the New Zealand government, the Maori people, the lending museums, and the American Federation of Arts. The museum, on the north side of Golden Gate Parkhs Music Concourse, is open 10 to 5 Wednesdays through Sundays; admission is $3, $1.50 for ages 5 to 17 and over 65.

If you're going to New Zealand

Because the 385,000 Maoris number about 12 percent of New Zealand's population, their art and culture are important to the country as a whole. …

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