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Contemporary Maori art & language

Atarangi 1990, Parekowhai, Michael (1968– ), New Zealand. Purchased 2008. Te Papa

This sculpture was created by leading contemporary artist Michael Parekowhai (born 1968, Nga Ariki, Ngati Whakarongo). Parekowhai was born in the city, like most Maori of his generation, and reinterpreted customary art forms in this context. His work is often described as taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.

Atarangi can be seen as a Maori carving with upraised arms or an abstract sculpture. Vertically, the rods form the word 'HE', which means 'a' or 'some' in Maori and is a masculine pronoun in English. As such, language and identity are both explored.

Te Ataarangi – Maori language learning

The sculpture's name, Atarangi, is also a method of teaching the Maori language with Cuisenaire rods (colourful rods of different lengths), which were originally used for teaching maths. This successful immersion method – usually known as Te Ataarangi – was developed by Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira and Ngoingoi Pewhairangi in the 1970s. It was a pioneering initiative in revilatising te reo.

Through Te Ataarangi, fluent speakers were trained as tutors. The method was designed to suit Maori learners and was centred on spoken language. It provided an alternative to more grammar-based teaching approaches of the time.

Art curator and critic Robert Leonard wrote that Parekowhai's Atarangi 'could be seen as a celebration of the Ataarangi method, as the assertion of a Maori identity that recuperates Pakeha devices for its own ends'.

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