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Māori carving in the modern world

Radiogram circa 1955, Retter, Massey (1914–1980), New Zealand. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

Customary Maori whakairo (carving) meets modern technology in this radiogram from the 1950s.

The carver, Massey Retter (1914–80, Muaupoko, Ngati Raukawa), was among growing numbers of Maori influenced by modern, urban culture at this time. He and other Maori artists reinterpreted customary art forms in this new context. Retter took a piece of modern equipment and transformed it with whakairo, also incorporating painted kowhaiwhai (rafter pattern) motifs.

Massey Retter

Massey Retter first discovered whakairo while recovering from a World War II injury in Europe. He carved his mother a tiki (human form) from the wooden butt of an Italian pistol.

Retter was a largely self-taught carver. He passed on his skills later in life by teaching on New Zealand's Kapiti Coast.

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