Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/

doi 10.32873/unl.dc.tsasp.0030


Copyright © 2018 by the author


This paper considers the role of patterns derived from kowhaiwhai in printed textiles, and how these have been used to project a national identity. Kowhaiwhai refers to the design traditionally used my Maori (the Indigenous people of New Zealand) on parts of meetings houses, canoe paddles, and other painted objects. Although kowhaiwhai art has developed to include figural representation, it is the curvilinear decoration based on the natural forms of koru (fern shoots), kape (crescent), and rauru (spiral) which has become a distinctly recognizable “New Zealand” pattern. Situated in the meeting house, kowhaiwhai designs have a style and meaning which are specific to their iwi (tribe) and locale. Kowhaiwhai is not traditionally a form used in textiles, but its graphic style naturally lends itself to print and pattern. Textiles featuring kowhaiwhai have been used to celebrate and assert cultural identity, even when made by Pakeha (people of European descent) or manufactured outside New Zealand. A visual shorthand for “New Zealand-ness” in a global setting, kowhaiwhai designs appear in sports uniforms, international beauty pageant outfits, wearable art costumes, and in the uniform of our national airline. This paper will investigate how removing designs from their original context and placing them on wearable/usable objects is not necessarily a clear-cut case of appropriation. I will also explore the developments which have shaped New Zealanders’ awareness of Māori art forms. In particular, 29 meeting houses rafter designs copied by the Rev. Herbert Williams in 1897 (and widely published by ethnologist Augustus Hamilton) have formed a kowhaiwhai “source book” which has influenced the style in common use. In the early 20th century, politician Sir Apirana Ngata played a key role in promoting the cultural renaissance of Māori art, visible in the widespread adoption of Māori motifs in a variety of applied arts, including textiles.