Ancient puppetry revitalised with a twist

9:01 pm on 30 September 2015

Māori artists and performers will be showcasing ngā karetao at a national puppet festival as part of efforts to revitalise the ancient art form.

Artist James Webster with seven carved kareatao.

Artist James Webster with seven carved kareatao. Photo: Norm Heke

Several prominent Māori artists, including James Webster and Charlotte Graham, will take part in the event, which starts tomorrow in Wellington.

Artist James Webster with an example of what he calls karetao pūoro - singing Māori puppets.

Karetao pūoro (singing Māori puppets) Photo: SUPPLIED

Mr Webster is a sculptor, carver, practises ta moko, and makes and plays taonga pūoro - Māori musical instruments.

He has taken an innovative approach by giving the kareatao (puppets) a voice by carving them into musical instruments as well.

Mr Webster said he believed it was a new take on the ancient performing art.

"I know lots of people who've made lots of karetao but there's not a lot of people performing with the karetao.

"Because I'm a carver, I have a collection of my own to perform with," he said.

"Some of them have taken the form of instruments that you can use as puppets, but you can also play them as instruments so these puppets have a musical voice."

He said he did not want to just recreate what had already been done in the past.

"I've combined my interest in Māori musical instruments - taonga pūoro and the karetao - and created a thing I call 'karetao pūoro' - singing Māori puppets."

Mr Webster said karetao were Māori taonga that had been sleeping for generations and, through performance, were re-awakened.

He said there was a groundswell of interest around karetao, which had led to the beginnings of a revival.

"There's growing interest in the art of karetao, people like Charlotte Graham - her contribution with the series of seven karetao she made of politicians a few years ago - and work by Aroha Yates-Smith, the work they're doing within these spheres.

"It's being re-awoken, there's pockets of interest around the place and the more that we perform the better."