As its title Korero implies, this work invites thought and talk. It is a symbol that echoes through the heart of Maori culture in which oratory, often reciprocated ceremoniously, is highly valued. Its asymmetrical form, markedly Maori, can also 'speak' of two sides of existence: the physical and the spiritual that in reo Maori is termed 'wairua'. Its beaked mouth, manaia-like, also makes stylised reference to birds and other animals that all have their place within Maori cosmology, encouraging our sustainable interaction with our natural environment. The two-sidedness of Korero can also promote communication and mutual respect between Maori and Pakeha, along with positive reciprocity amongst all cultures.
Although korero can also mean less formal conversation, we have placed this work under the theme of 'Whai mana' acknowledging its contemporary role in a long line of rakau whakairo (carving) and whaikorero (formal speeches) that have expressed the mana of Maori people for generations. Like this form, korero need not be over-complicated. It can come to us without excessive polish yet with beautiful form, carrying a message that is universally understood. JD
Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare O Rehua Whanganui
This work is a relatively early example of Cliff Whiting's pioneering of the fusion of traditional Maori carving and contemporary art that reached its zenith in the decoration of the marae Te Hono ki Hawaiki, at Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington.
One of the group of young artists deeply influenced by Gordon Tovey when he was the Education Department's national art supervisor, Whiting inevitably became a teacher. Later, as a member of the Maori Advisory Board of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, he was responsible for conservation work on many marae and for insisting on the importance of marae tikanga in the maintenance of art forms such as whakairo and raranga. His own work demonstrates that he has always practiced what he preaches.
This carving was first reproduced in the Maori arts and culture magazine Te Ao Hou. The page layout would have been arranged by Gordon Walters, the magazine's designer. Notwithstanding its obvious traditional Maori references, Korero is also in some respects a piece of high modernist sculpture with echoes of sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and even Henry Moore. This could be an instance of Maori looking at art with Pakeha eyes. PS