There are some pieces in an artist’s life that have particular gravitas, that are particularly challenging to give birth to, and when they are finally complete, you feel the need to celebrate and share that journey of patience, blood, sweat, and tears as well as inspiration with the world.
“Kaitiaki” is such a work for me. Three years in the making, this two piece oil work consists of a very traditional looking portrait of an old Maori man with a full face moko (tattoo) set alongside a mystical New Zealand forest landscape painting with a stream and glowing light.
Together this diptych is called “Kaitiaki,” which means guardian or steward in Maori. To me, these paintings honour the wairua or spirit of Taane, god of the forest and progenitor of mankind.
In my understanding, to be a guardian of the natural world is not at all about ownership over land or exclusivity of one set of people over another. But rather a true kaitiaki feels a deep connection with nature and a sense of abundance, with the aim of living in harmony with the hum of the natural world.
In Maori cosmology Taane was the son of the Sky Father Ranginui and the Earth Mother Papatuanuku. In a time before our world, Rangi and Papa clung together in such a tight embrace that their children who existed in the dark, stifling realm between them yearned for more air, space and light so they could live more fully. So Taane being the strongest of 70 sons, put his back against the earth and his feet against the sky and with karakia (sacred incantation) eventually managed to push his parents apart, allowing Te Ao Marama – The World of Light to enter.
Taane then went on to become the god and progenitor of the forest, birds, humans and every living thing on this planet.
The old man is posed and adorned with a korowai (cloak), huia feather in his hair, pounamu (greenstone) earring, holding a carved taonga (treasure – in this case the walking stick he holds).
The portrait is from my imagination, influenced by 19th and 20th century paintings by legends C.F. Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer as well dozens and dozens of black and white photos.
My aim was to bring that very old romanticism and depth into the world that I live in, which is often face paced, digital and overwhelming. There is a stillness that I feel in this work. It is very much in that eternal moment of “now,” which is healing and where we can feel gratitude for abundance. One of the sources of abundance to thank in this case would be Taane, the progenitor of nature and of all living beings.
“The forest is a living thing just as I breathe and live.
Every leaf, every tree, every, insect, every bird, feels and knows this.
When I enter its domain, I know I enter the House Of Tane.
My ancestor who created us all and each one of us.
A face of Io-of-the-Many-Faces.”
- From Maori natural lore
Posted by artist Sofia Minson from NewZealandArtwork.com
New Zealand Maori portrait and landscape oil painting