In 2008, Te Papa acquired two early works by Paratene Matchitt, a pivotal figure in the founding of the contemporary Māori arts movement. Matchitt was one of a group of artists known as the ‘Māori modernists’ – the first Māori artists to work with the styles, materials, and techniques of modern European art.
Here, his early sculpture The family (1966) and the painting Te Kooti at Ruatahuna (1967) are shown alongside his 2008 sculpture, The red heart. Although these works were created more than thirty years apart, they have much in common – especially in subject matter, in Matchitt’s vocabulary of symbols, and in his treatment of colour.
The red heart depicts the heart symbol and colour of Te Wepu, the battle flag of Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki. Te Kooti was the founder of the Ringatu faith, a protagonist for political change in the 19th century, and a key innovator in Maori art.
In the 1960s, Paratene Matchitt began drawing on Te Kooti's philosophies and symbolism in his work, and in particular reproduced Te Wepu many times. Te Kooti had defined the heart on Te Wepu as a symbol of the sufferings of the Maori nation.
The family is an early sculpture by Matchitt, and was exhibited in one of the first Maori arts shows ever held – the Maori Art Festival, in Hamilton in 1966.
Watch an interview with Paratene Matchitt
This text was prepared for the Collecting Contemporary exhibition, June 2011.