Kura Te Waru Rewiri

1950 | Kaeo, New Zealand
Kura Te Waru Rewiri — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait Kura Te Waru Rewiri, at painting desk in the studio, © photo: Kerry-Ann Boyle

Māori painter.

Born in the north island of New Zealand, Kura Te Waru Rewiri has Māori tribal ancestry to Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Rangi and Ngāti Raukawa ki Kauwhata. Her early art teachers were Selwyn Wilson (1927-2002) and Buck Nin (1942-1996) who encouraged her to study at Ilam School of Fine Arts in Christchurch (1971-1972). Here artists Bill Sutton (1917-2000) and Don Peebles (1922-2010) instructed her in design, drawing and sculpture. In K. Te Waru Rewiri’s final year she studied painting under Lithuania painter Rudolf Gopas (1913-1983) and graduated with a Diploma in Fine Arts in 1973. Her early paintings show the influence of their teaching in her expressive use of colour, paint and gestural mark-making.
Although Te Waru Rewiri graduated in 1973, her early career was centred on being an art teacher and her own painting practice launched when she decided to become a full-time artist, presenting her first solo exhibition intitled Ahau-Me at Gallery Pacific in Auckland, 1985. This not only marked the beginnings of Te Waru Rewiri’s career as a painter but the paintings also challenged some of the customary ideas about Māori art present in Māori culture, with specific reference to the art of whakairo (customary Māori woodcarving). Whakairo is predominantly understood as being the domain of men, with restrictions placed on women’s participation in its practice. Her paintings of carved forms were a way of challenging this cultural belief about carving – she became a female “carver” using the medium of paint to shape and author her own narratives and to express her concerns.

Kura Te Waru Rewiri along with peers Robyn Kahukiwa (b. circa 1938), Emily Karaka (b. 1952), Diane Prince (b. 1952) and Shona Rapira Davies (b. 1951)are part of the Māori women’s art movement that rose to prominence in the early 1980s. Similar yet different to the feminist art movement of the same time, the Māori women’s art movement was concerned with giving voice and visibility to Māori women’s sovereignty. Collectively their work culturally and spiritually expressed a connection to land as the personification of Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) as understood in Māori creation narratives. Their work often addressed land as a site of capture, theft and injustice under British colonisation.
The signing of the Te Tiriti o Waitangi – Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 by Māori and the British Crown is also a central theme of the Māori women’s art movement.
Working in a style informed by Abstract Expressionism and Māori philosophical beliefs, her paintings are characterised by strong geometric structures and an intuitive use of colour and pattern which reference customary Māori art forms and knowledge systems. Subjects central in her work include Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) and its relationship to both people and the land, the Hahi Rātana (the Rātana faith), and exploring the customary Māori language of kōwhaiwhai (painted rafter patterns).

Key exhibitions of Te Waru Rewiri include Māori Art Today, which toured throughout New Zealand in 1986-1987; Mana Tiriti, City Gallery Wellington (1990); Te Waka Toi: Contemporary Māori Art, which toured in the United States and New Zealand from 1992 to 1994. Pūrangiaho: Seeing Clearly: Casting Light on the Legacy of Tradition in Contemporary Māori Art (2001) at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki; and Taiāwhio: Continuity and Change (2002) at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. She held her first retrospective exhibition, KURA: Story of a Māori Woman Artist, at Mangere Arts Centre – Nga Tohu o Uenuku in 2011.
Since 1991 Kura Te Waru Rewiri has been an influential figure in Māori arts education having lectured at Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland, Whanganui Polytechnic, Whanganui and Massey University, Palmerston North where she is currently the co-ordinator of the Toi Oho ki Apiti Māori Visual Arts programme. Key biographical publications include Kura Te Waru Rewiri, A Maori Woman Artist by Camilla Highfield (1999) and KURA: Story of a Māori Woman Artist edited by Nigel Borell (2012).

Nigel Borell

Publication made in partnership with Contemporary HUM, with funding from Creative New Zealand.

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions

© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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