Exhibition aims to dispel negative stereotypes of Māori women

1:02 pm on 7 June 2017

A new exhibition aims to dispel stereotyped portrayals of Māori women as passive and one dimensional.

Catherine Bisley, left, and Ariana Tikao, right, both curators at the Turnbull Library, holding a piece of art by Robyn Kahukiwa.

Turnbull Library curators Catherine Bisley, left, and Ariana Tikao, right, holding a work by Robyn Kahukiwa. Photo: RNZ / Leigh McLachlan

Wāhine: Beyond the dusky maiden has opened at the Turnbull Library.

Curator Catherine Bisley said it was easy to notice stereotypes about Māori women in the pictorial collections from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Women that are very passive, often fetishised - there is a lot of sort of sexualised imagery," she said.

"It is a very limited stereotype and it did not reflect at all what we understood the experience of Māori womanhood to be."

Ms Bisley and fellow curator Ariana Tikao sought and gathered photos upon photos of Māori women from MPs to artists, farmers and activists.

For Ms Tikao, a cheery black and white photo of late singer-songwriter Mahinārangi Tocker, taken in the 1990s, is a favourite.

"She was a woman that inspired me to start writing songs in the early 90's.

"That's a really lovely connection for me to have her in the exhibition."

Ms Tikao hoped the exhibition showed young Māori women what they were capable of.

"We do limit ourselves as Māori women.

"We are actually delving back into our atua stories, our ancient korero about the female characters and goddesses and what positive messages there are for us there."

Ms Bisley said she came across a statistic that 38 percent of production industry workers in the mid-1960s were Māori women.

"We thought that was an extraordinary contribution that Māori women made economically to our country, so we have a whole section about Māori workers."

The exhibition also features 19th century letters in te reo Māori as well as works by artists like Robyn Kahukiwa.

It celebrates contemporary women like Hannah Wallace, the first woman to be named the Young Māori Farmer of the Year in 2015.

The image of the first female Māori MP, the late Iriaka Rātana, is there too, which pleased her grandson Labour MP Adrian Rurawhe.

"Our family is really proud that she is being acknowledged in that way," he said.

The same photo of Mrs Rātana was hung on the walls of the former Māori Affairs room in Parliament last year.

"She was not a public figure to us, we just knew her as our nan.

"But as we have found out about all of the things that she actually did and the challenges that she faced, we are really proud of what she achieved."

The exhibition runs until late August.