Happy and harmonious

Cover of Te Ao Hou with John Scott (June 1964)

Cover of Te Ao Hou with John Scott (June 1964)

Katarina Mataira, “Modern Trends in Maori Art Forms”, pp.205-216 in Erik Schwimmer (ed), The Maori People in the Nineteen-Sixties, Blackwood & Janet Paul Ltd, Auckland, 1968.

Back in 1968, Katarina Mataira placed John Scott’s Maori Battalion War Memorial building at a pivotal point in the development of marae architecture. The building was of such excellence that Mataira said it raises the question of whether the traditional-style marae house will go out of favour and with it, the art of traditional carving. She saw demand for the fully carved house to last at most another fifty years.

To her, the Maori Battalion War Memorial building ‘happily and harmoniously’ combined Maori and European elements of architecture, and conclusively showed that ‘it is possible for New Zealand to develop unique architectural forms.’ This wasn’t a watering down of traditional forms, but an ‘exicting and widely acclaimed development in Maori community building’. It was an acceptable extension of the ‘waves’ of marae building that saw adaptation under Te Kooti and ‘re-traditionalisation’ under the Maori Arts and Crafts School in Rotorua.

Equally of interest is the primacy Mataira gives to these architectural developments. She places them at the front of her chapter, leading the discussion ahead of other Maori artforms such as weaving, carving and song. It is almost as if Mataira saw the development of Maori architecture as being the lead to which all the other artforms would follow. She states that ‘if there is to be a move towards more modern buildings it is perhaps time that the Maori people…began to look at their craft with a new, more critical, and liberal eye. She pointed to the need to question whether traditional carving will be appropriate for the modern world.

Thinking of what has occurred since then, you’d have to say that architectural developments never fulfilled this leading role. While sculpture, painting, and carving have progressed through practitioners such as Para Matchitt, Ralph Hotere, Emily Karaka, Shane Cotton, architecture has far less individuals to point to. Far less a critical and liberal eye has been directed toward ‘Maori’ architecture

What Mataira saw beginning with the Maori Battalion War Memorial building was at best a false start, a progress not dead but [hopefully] simply in a slumber. At worse, Mataira’s vision was completely wrong and Maori architecture stops and ends with the traditional or slight variations of it.

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