WHAWHAI/PROTEST

Tane and Tama Uprooted 1985

The signature of Sandy Adsett's graphic design is instantly recognisable in this dark and disturbing picture. Its dominant darkness plunges koru and other rakau whakairo (woodcarving), including maihi and tekoteko references, into low visibility in relation to a single white square with a dark cruciform, much like the windows found in wharenui, churches and school halls. The closely confined interiors of those buildings add a sense of mysticism, of secrets, that may convey a sense of foreboding to religious and secular congregations alike. Looking at this work's title reminds us that such dimly lit spaces can also hide many travesties, such as Maori cultural losses that resulted from the introduction of Christianity in this country. The so-called 'enlightenment' brought by colonisation and its attendant Christianity did, indeed, uproot a Maori social and religious order that had already existed here for hundreds of years. It was uprooted through an institutionalised conviction that all non-European cultures and their belief systems were inferior. For Maori people, its progress led eventually to cultural alienation, land losses and economic decline. Perhaps this picture will inspire new light on the subject of cultural alienation which may yet lead to a more accepting and respectful attitude towards Maori cultural perspectives. JD

Sandy Adsett b.1939
Ngati Kahungunu

Tane and Tama Uprooted 1985
Acrylic

Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua Whanganui

Like so many of the Maori artists in this exhibition, the focus of Sandy Adsett's life is teaching. For him, Maori artists must work first and foremost for their own people.

"A Maori has an obligation to the art of his/her people. It's the people's art. It doesn't belong to you. It must identify Maori to Maori if it is going to remain relevant to statements about our tribal beliefs, values and mana in today's and tomorrow's world."

This work makes powerful reference to the uprooting effect of the introduction of Christianity on Maori cosmology. While there have been many successful attempts at integrating the two, there can be doubt that much has also been lost. The message of this work is unmistakeable: the cross has cast a long, dark shadow over the world of traditional Maori belief. PS

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