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The meaning of moko

13 Apr 2011

This content is tagged as Ngā toi Māori .


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The meaning of moko: major solo exhibition opens at Ashburton art gallery this weekend

A compelling exhibition of facial moko film and photos will be launched at the Ashburton art gallery this weekend.

The photo scenes in the Face Value exhibition are of people, with moko, in their homes, familiar spaces, both indoors and outdoors. Her photographic work is about intimacy, and simultaneously, is about challenging people's perceptions and consists of a multi-media 37 minute film and 36 hand-printed photographic images.

Her research took her to Maori family gatherings throughout the North and South Islands and to Tahiti, tracing Maori origins in the South Pacific.

"This is an exhibition along a journey of New Zealanders as never seen before,'' Auckland photographer Serena Giovanna Stevenson said today.

"The photos in this exhibition demonstrate the sincerity, human impulse and gaze of understanding passing through the eyes of one generation to the next - from grandfather to grandchild, daughter to mother and so on.

"I started the Face Value project in 2000 and spent eight years researching and documenting ta moko. One of my aims was to counteract the fascination held by the international media and popular culture with stereotypical portrayals of Maori wearing 'fierce' facial tattoo that repeatedly highlighted a public misrepresentation of the art form.

"I was not interested in the generic context of moko, nor in the history or politics of the process. I am neither an anthropologist nor an academic specialising in such things. My intention was to find out what the traditional facial tattoo meant to the individual and how it came about in this fast changing world.

"The images in Face Value are personal, with each person sharing their knowledge pertaining to their experience with the moko. This is not a body of work that covers the whole Maori perspective of facial moko. It is about six personal stories presented exactly as they are.''

Stevenson said she had discovered that there are political and cultural issues attached to the idea of what moko means today. The points of view are varied depending on age, gender, tribal affiliation, knowledge and personal experience.

The images are precious steps along the journey that follows the recipient receiving his or her facial moko from the tamoko artist, surrounded by the love of family and friends, she said.

In recent years, Stevenson has been awarded travel photographer of the year; NZ photographer of the year; and her work was selected for National Geographic Channel for a worldwide screening. Last year she completed a Masters in Design.

Face Value is a solo exhibition touring New Zealand .It began at the Pataka Museum and Gallery in Porirua in February 2009 and has been exhibited at Te Papa, in Beijing, and in other cities.

Ashburton art gallery spokeswoman Lucy Sharp said Face Value captured the scenes of real people in their homes and familiar spaces. The gallery was thrilled to be able to showcase Stevenson's work.