The Maori people of New Zealand are heirs to a vibrant culture that continues to find expression in the form of contemporary art. Earth and Spirit: Maori Art from New Zealand, curated by John Royal, is intended to serve as an introduction to the best of contemporary Maori art. The exhibition features 75 works by 12 established Maori artists in a variety of media, including paintings as well as traditional forms, such as weaving and carving in wood and jade. The common thread running throughout Earth and Spirit is the relationship between the physical and the spiritual within traditional Maori cosmology.

Aotearoa, known to westerners (paheka) as New Zealand, was one of the last places on Earth to be inhabited by humans, an event which took place in several waves throughout the fifteenth century. The ancestors of the Maori found refuge in the northern island of New Zealand from the high pressure politics and continual warfare of their Polynesian mother culture. Maori today still trace their genealogies, whakapapa, back to the particular canoes, or waka, in which their ancestors arrived.

A key concept in Maori culture, and Polynesian culture in general, is that of mana. One of the many ways of defining mana is as a substance or quality that engenders respect or awe. It can be found in people, places, or objects. In much the same way we might believe in a substance or quality called beauty that can be found in artwork and tends to engender admiration. Thus a jade carving may be beautiful to us, but what may be more important, from the Maori point of view, is its mana, which is tied to its material, the place from which it came, and the ancestors who might have worn it, imparting some of their own mana. This is one of the ways in which matter and spirit come together.

Rounding out the exhibition will be a selection of historical Maori artifacts on loan to this exhibition from the collection of the Zanesville Art Center of Zanesville, Ohio.

A reception for Earth & Spirit: Contemporary Indigenous Art from Australia and New Zealand
will be held during Gallery Night, Friday, October 19, from 7“10 p.m at the Erie Art Musuem.