MANA WHENUA/MANA OF THE LAND

Ngati Kuri, Te Aupouri Porirua Hills 1965

What distinguishes these Porirua Hills from those we may see from our passing car window is an artist's exploration of representative form. Selwyn Muru embarks on this exploration stocked with a limited but striking colour palette and the use of lines bent at various angles and drawn in various thicknesses.

In this reddened landscape, the link often made in Maori culture between blood ties and land is clear. The Maori word for land, whenua, is also the word for umbilical cord and placenta. This kind of rationale adds incentive to the firm belief that we are dependant custodians of the land and any abuse of it harms all humanity in various ways. A less inspiring, yet also understandable, reaction to the painting might be to equate the redness of the landscape with spilt blood. Aotearoa has endured many military events where human life was extinguished in this way.

Selwyn Muru's use of oil paint and line drawing opens up a possibility for interpretation that he might not have expected or anticipated. The mere suggestion of the relationship between land and human life, including procreation, is only one of many culturally-based possibilities that this enigmatic work therefore invites. There is a virtue in this particular interpretation in that it may inspire us to further our environmentalist aspirations, rather than indulge in the violent alternatives where blood stains the land. JD

Selwyn Muru b.1930
Ngati Kuri, Te Aupouri

Porirua Hills 1965
Oil on canvas

The Fletcher Trust Collection

Selwyn Muru was another of that generation of Maori artists who, influenced by Gordon Tovey at the Department of Education, trained as teachers. In this capacity, he lived at Ruatahuna, Matakana Island, in the Ureweras and at Papatoetoe, Auckland. In 1963, the year in which he gave up teaching in order to concentrate on painting, he made an acclaimed artistic debut at an exhibition held by the Auckland Society of Arts.

This powerful landscape, drenched in dark red, evokes not so much the colours of a beautiful sunset but rather the association with the time when the Porirua area was the location of events associated with the Maori leaders Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata as they sought to curb European expansion and retain the mana of their people. PS

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