The 1950s witnessed the rise of the first generation of Fine Arts trained Māori artists. This young group represented a radical turning point in Māori art as they consciously broke away from the traditional carving practices of their forebears to create new carved and painted expressions about their Māori heritage. They fused a unique understanding of Māori knowledge and cultural narrative with that of Western Fine Arts learning and practice.

Māori creation narratives and the relationship of people to the whenua (land) are told through the ideas, mediums and techniques of the times in which they lived. The artists whose work is on display in this exhibition were greatly influenced by the modernist art movement, and particularly by sculptors Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Constantin Brâncuși.

This influence is seen in the pared-back simplicity of the human form and evident in the piercing of forms where ‘the void’ produces the weight of both positive and negative space. The works are bold, confident and explorative. Today, we appreciate these artists’ forthright artworks as the radical beginnings of contemporary Māori art.