Text originally created for Tūrangawaewae: Art and New Zealand exhibition at Te Papa, March 2018.
An unidentified woman represents an ideal of Māori beauty.
By the 1890s, most Māori had been wearing European clothing for decades. But Pākehā were hungry for portraits of Māori in customary dress. It may be that this young woman is dressed in props from the artist’s studio, rather than her own personal taonga [treasures].
Though she represents an idealised image of Māori beauty, her gaze maintains a sense of self that is out of reach.
E tohu ana tēnei wahine i te rerehua o te Māori.
Ka tae ki ngā tau 1890, i te mau te nuinga o ngā Māori i ngā kākahu Pākehā mō ngā tau e hia kē nei. Ahakoa tērā, i hiahiatia ngā kōwaiwai kiritangata o te Māori i rō kākahu Māori e te Pākehā. Terā pea, kei te mau tēnei wahine i ngā rawa nō te taupuni o te ringatoi, tēnā i āna taonga ake.
Āe, he tohu te wahine nei o te rerehua o te Māori, engari kei ōna kanohi tōna mana ake.