Nga Puhi: Ngati Rangi, Ngati Hine, Te Uri Taniwha
Aotearoa New Zealand born 1964
Palmerston North, North Island, Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand
Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on canvas
Widely exhibited in New Zealand and Australia, artist Shane Cotton combines imagery from Maori and Pakeha (non-indigenous New Zealander) sources to create hybrid, poetic paintings that investigate the shared experience of the country’s two cultures.
Three-quarter view is dominated by the moko (facial tattoo) of the nineteenth-century British flax trader Barnet Burns. The striking physical transformation of the Englishman resulted from his extraordinary decision to live among the Maori from the 1830s. Cotton used a nineteenth-century etching of Burns as his source, yet his painting process has transformed the original image. Removing all signs of Burns’ Englishness, Cotton has reproduced only his moko in two-tones of blue. Hovering around the disembodied face are targets, sparrows and a goldfinch. The avian motif has particular importance in Maori cosmology and the goldfinch symbolises the passion of Christ in western religious art. The combination alludes to the complex relationship between Christianity, colonialism and contemporary culture. Cotton’s art questions the notion of cultural identity, looking instead to the space between Maori and Pakeha perspectives.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008