Rangi Kipa interview

Te Atiawa, Taranaki, Ngati Tama ki te Tauihu

Artist Rangi Kipa is part of Toi Maori Art Market since 2007, his work 'Flora' featuring prominently at 2014 event. We spoke to Kipa about his recent projects with NZ Post and Tourism New Zealand as well as what Toi Maori Art Market means to him.

Kipa grew up in Waitara, Taranaki, a small town where Wiremu Kingi's opposition to the Crown's attempts to purchase land led to the outbreak of war in March 1860. This understanding of his own history and his desire to make New Zealand a more representative society for all stands out in his work and ideology.

“Our social and cultural history in Taranaki is such that it’s kind of a weird thing to grow up in a place where the local Maori community maintain its narratives about what happened there and those are at odds with the national narrative”, explains Kipa.

“So their sense of justice is always been a big part of my practice, now you may not necessarily see it in my work but it’s what drives my work and to be successful I suppose, and drives me to do extraordinary hours and go to extraordinary lengths to try and produce extraordinary work, that’s a big picture kind of thing, but if you have any idea about the cultural and social history of New Zealand in Taranaki, the relative disparity between Maori and non-Maori was all there in Waitara”.

For Kipa, changing the narratives attached to social history in New Zealand is an important challenge — something that he has developed through school and University, and it has helped focus his work since the early 90s, after some time playing in bands, surfing and acting.

“In 1990, the government was pushing its narratives about how we were the best multicultural example in the world, I went to Waitangi that year and that’s where I witnessed the Kaupapa Waka project, and that’s when I decided I wanted to join university. I ended up in one of the enrolment lines at Waikato University and one of the deans was just walking past and checking to see what people were taking and he suggested that I might want to take social anthropology, which I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did a double major in Maori and social anthropology and that gave me tools, you know, the ability to work through some of that stuff that happened in Taranaki and New Zealand as a whole, and then realise that I could use art as a tool for cultural recovery”.

For Kipa, it became clear that restoring traditional practices back into the community could help reinvigorate rituals which were being systemically broken down by colonisation, promoting a level of well-being that 20 years later we now tend to take for granted, yet for the forward thinking artist it constantly challenges his personal motivations, meaning his art is constantly evolving.

“I suppose I’ve got to a point now in my career where a lot of those art forms I was participating in: Moko, Waka, the making of instruments and adornment works, all that sort of stuff has got to that point now where I’m either leading at it or at the top end of a number of those art forms”, he explains.

Rangi Kipa, Flora, 2009

Flora, 2009

“A lot of those art forms we were really struggling to re-establish again, and now they’re pretty safe, and I kind of think I've made my contribution, and the same stuff isn’t driving me to do that anymore, because there are a lot more people participating in those art forms, and there are a bunch of people pushing that along, which is great”.

Kipa sees himself as a bit of an anomaly, blurring the customary and the contemporary into new forms, and this experimental nature comes partly from his role as a leader in Maori art forms, and ideas formed during his Master Fine of Arts degree and also his role as a public speaker and lecturer.

“I’ve developed a reputation for doing quite breakthrough stuff, being a bit of an explorer I suppose, and managing to pull that stuff off”, he says.

“The problem that I face now is that I’ve got demand for the work that I’ve established over the last 27 years that I don’t really want do that stuff anymore, everyone goes you’re living the dream and actually I’m kind of going 'I’d rather do something more experimental', trying to push Moko right out the window of where it’s been for the last 20 years, I’d rather do something radically different but I have this demand now for the style and the art form that I’ve contributed to developing that is kind of hard to escape from”.

Recent commissions to create new work for New Zealand Post’s Matariki stamps, and redesigning the 100% Pure logo, have allowed Kipa to develop more investment in Maori narratives, and to push the status quo of where we see Maori imagery.   

“It’s kind of a double challenge, one is to go I’m trying to push this on the wider populace of New Zealand who don’t know anything about Maori, or being able to experience or force them to see themselves as invested in the growth of that sort of stuff, because I think that our success in the future actually is locked within the investment in each others wellbeing”, Kipa explains.

 “In the last 30 years Maori have spent a lot of time having to their time and energy into research to develop their claim to the crown for settlements, and a lot of that has meant that it’s been quite retrospectively focused and there’s a tendency to romanticise things and kind of get locked into that paradigm, when actually our investment should be located in where our culture might be able to change best to serve our people in the future”.

Rangi Kipa - Hei Tiki - Blue

Hei Tiki - Blue

Changing the perception of Maori art has been a significant driving force for Kipa, and he believes that Toi Maori Art Market plays a huge role in that process, both here in New Zealand and internationally.

“The value of Maori Art Market to me is the way in which people value our art”, he says, “A lot of the time we get people come in with specialist views that over a very long time they’ve inherited about Maori Art and society, and by putting work out there that captures their attention and imagination, you engage them with the narrative, you’re able to influence them and weave your way into their thinking, and if you are able to influence their thinking and appreciate the work, allowing them to perceive the community in which the art work comes from,”

“I kind of get perverse thrill when people come along and think you’re a freak, it means in a funny kind of way what they’re saying is what you’re doing is really amazing, we don’t know how you do it and they don’t how to explain it any other way”, he explains.

“I’ve got a lot invested in making sure that whatever art form that I’m participating in I’m that I take responsibility for driving it to be the best that possibly can be, because I think that our role as artists is to be visionary and set a benchmark, it’s a great feeling for me to not only feel appreciated by my compatriots and my countryman, my peers in Maori community who go that stuff is really cool, as well other people who don’t necessarily understand the cultural stuff that comes with some of the forms and some of things that I recreate and also try and move on to new sculptural forms and new narratives, but they get the technical quality of it, they get the aesthetic of it, they just get it, and that’s really rewarding”.


 Rangi Kipa interview

Rangi Kipa interview Changing the perception of Maori art has been a significant driving force for... Read more