Derek Lardelli is a prominent leader for Maori in the 21st century and arguably one of New Zealand’s finest and most diverse artists as a painter, carver, composer, researcher, performer, orator, graphic designer and educationalist.
Derek Lardelli is Maori – and hugely proud of his culture. His iwi (tribal affiliation) is Ngati Porou, Rongowhakaata, Ngati Konohi and Ngai Te Aweawe.
Sharing his culture through visual art; communicating its power and uniqueness, this is Derek’s passion and purpose. After his immediate whanau that is. He is first a husband, a father, a teacher, a communicator. His successes (and there have been many) he attributes to his whanau and he sees his talent as a visual artist too, as an aspect of something much bigger than himself.
Derek is also a principal tutor at the Toihoukura School of Maori Arts, based at Gisborne’s Tairawhiti Polytechnic.
Derek was the commissioning artist for the magnificent Maui sculptures that adorn his tribal mountain, Hikurangi. In indigenous cultures there were people, such as the demi-god Maui, who are outside what is considered ‘normal’ – they were hugely important in the development of the culture. They accomplished great feats. Today our culture belongs to a contemporary people who have a responsibility to that culture, built on respecting and valuing this “Taonga tuku iho” (treasure that has been handed down).
“It’s about telling our stories from a Maori perspective. The European practise has been to write about us. Now it is time to portray ourselves. I want to be able to be who I am. I am not European and I don’t want to be European. Although I have an Italian name I do not say I am Italian. I want to say am Maori and I am proud of it. Art is one way of accomplishing this, of portraying the Maori perspective”
In 2005 the All Blacks, led by Tana Umaga, first performed ‘Kapa o Pango’, the haka Derek composed. “Haka is an anagram of kaha – which is strength. It is about channelling strong energy – that is what the haka is. It is a powerful art form and it is part of our identity”. There was some heated debate around the ‘new haka’ and what it represents – perhaps not surprising given it emerges from an often-misunderstood culture. There would always be detractors. Derek viewed this as an opportunity for debate and education and says once people understood on a cultural level their apprehensions were dispelled.
Derek sees a major aspect of his role is to share information. Whether it be with Air New Zealand in the designing the motif for its new corporate branding, or the All Blacks haka; it is about awakening people to the meaning and the origins of the symbolism. For Air New Zealand’s rebranding, Derek conveyed the importance of the company having a sense of ‘where it came from’ and that it was, ‘about the people.’
The Maori culture, says Derek, is ‘all inclusive’.
Inclusivity is part too, of the revival in ta moko, or traditional tattoo. Derek is considered one of this country’s finest ta moko artists and he has been prominent in explaining its revival and spiritual significance to the public here and overseas.
The passion that drives his own artistic expression and his teaching has brought Derek to a place of prominence in this country and internationally. He received a New Zealand Arts Foundation laureate award in 2004, was the inaugural Gallipoli artist-in-residence in 2006, and was awarded the honour of Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in 2008. He also completed a Master of Fine Arts Degree (with Distinction), achieving the highest mark ever awarded at this level by Canterbury University’s Elam Art School.
Written by Freelance writer Linda George for immediate use, Tel 027 251 2622, (04) 976 9927. Supplied by Toi Maori on behalf of the MAORI ART MARKet or contact Iain Morrison Tel 04 473 7980 or 021 688 668.