'Luminous, dazzling': Wāhine Māori art collective wins major Venice Biennale award

'Luminous, dazzling': Wāhine Māori art collective wins major Venice Biennale award

Takapau in the sunlight from the open doors of the entrance of the Arsenale at the Venice Biennale 2024. Photo / Mataaho Collective / Instagram

By Kevin McDonald of Whakaata Māori

A collective of wāhine Māori artists has won a major award at the world’s premier international art festival, the Venice Biennale in Italy.

“We have dedicated our careers to collectivity and we are so grateful,” the wāhine wrote on social media from Venice on Sunday (NZT).

Mataaho Collective received the highest prize, the Golden Lion, for the Best Participant in the International Exhibition, Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere, at the festival considered “the Olympics of the art world”.

The Mataaho Collective wāhine, who prefer to be known as a collective rather than individual artists, are Erena Baker (Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangātira), Sarah Hudson (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe), Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) and Terri Te Tau (Rangitāne ki Wairarapa).

The jury presenting them with the award referred to their work as “luminous”, “poetic” and “dazzling”, among other descriptions.

“The Māori Mataaho Collective has created a luminous woven structure of straps that poetically crisscross the gallery space. Referring to matrilinear traditions of textiles with its womb-like cradle, the installation is both a cosmology and a shelter.

“Its impressive scale is a feat of engineering that was only made possibly by the collective strength and creativity of the group. The dazzling pattern of shadows cast on the walls and floor harks back to ancestral techniques and gestures to future uses of such techniques.”

Sharing the news of their award, Mataaho Collective offered a mihi to their whānau, those who have inspired them and Māori and indigenous artists of the future.

“We have dedicated our careers to collectivity and we are so grateful. It doesn’t just feel like our award, but recognition of our supportive families, our visionary colleagues, our generous mentors and the indigenous artists of the future.”

Unveiling their work earlier this week, they wrote “We’re proud to be Māori, at home and on the world stage” and added “We come from working class families, our materials are an ode to that.”

Eight Māori artists are representing Aotearoa at the prestigious art festival. As well as Mataaho Collective, they include Sandy Adsett (Ngāti Pahauwera), Brett Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui), Fred Graham (Ngāti Koroki Kahukura, Tainui) and Selwyn Te Ngareatua Wilson (Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Hine).

Indigenous Australian artist Archie Moore was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation at the festival now in its 60th edition.