MANA WHENUA/MANA OF THE LAND

Rakaumangamanga 1984

This painting offers another turn of the wheel of inter-cultural relations as witnessed from very early days of European arrival in Aotearoa in the northern area that includes Rakaumangamanga. The inclusion of text asserts its geographical focus along with its references to Maori language and spirituality, providing abstract forms that are signatory to the Ellis's practice and personal conviction, all gleaned from many visits to Rakaumangamanga.

The artist's visual experience draws on a rugged coastal terrain which has been embedded with deep spirituality by Maori people, applying to many tracts the deep sanctity of tapu. Although Rakaumangamanga has experienced various modes of human intervention ranging from lighthouses to dairy farming, Maori acknowledgement of its spirituality has endured. This whenua remains impregnated with tapu, maintained by descendants of those who have spiritually related to it over time.

Ellis obviously respects this same metaphysical quality, asserted by the local politics in this particular location. Apart from the writing there is no other feature that makes this work seem particularly Maori in its focus. The red and white flag forms which denote the activities of surveyors are scattered unnervingly around the jagged topography of this painting. This work tells many stories in its own special stained, smudged, scarred and scratched terrestrial way. JD

Robert Ellis b.1929

Rakaumangamanga 1984
Oil on canvas

The Fletcher Trust Collection

English-born Robert Ellis married 40 years ago into a Maori family from the North. This is one of many painted expressions of his indignation at the treatment of Maori land an as economic unit, parcelled up, made subject to rates so that local councils could gather revenue. If the rates were not paid then the council could seize portions of the land in lieu. The surveyors' flags dotted about the surface were actually first observed by the artist in an arid part of southern Spain; as a painter they seemed to him applicable to what was happening to his Maori family's ancestral lands.

Here it is shown sliced up into blocks, numbered, scratched over by bureaucratic pens, floating in space. The area was visited by T.W. Ratana. The letters in the lower left corner are an anagram for a familiar Ratana chant that includes the words 'Glory be to God'. PS

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