Aesthetic Explorations – The Maori Aesthetic

For my aesthetics exploration, I wanted to research and report on the Maori Aesthetic. Having visited New Zealand, this aesthetic is ever present wherever you are as the Maori are the indigenous natives to the island. Descendants of ancient Polynesian people who, through tales passed down through the generations, arrived to the island via canoes, the Maori have a rich and abundant history and culture. Their culture and aesthetic is traditionally visual through four main forms: Carving, Ta Moka (Tattoos), Weaving and Painting [3].

As mentioned, one of the traditional forms of the Maori Aesthetic is the Ta Moka. The history of the Ta Moka is deeply ingrained within the traditions and culture of New Zealand’s indigenous people, the Maori. Ta Moka (a.k.a Maori Tattoos) is the permanent marking of the body or face of the Maori [1]. However, Ta Moka differs from regular tattoos in that the body is carved with the use of chisels, which leaves the skin textured with grooves [1].

With regards to Ta Moka, it had declined as an art during the 20th century [2], but has since been on the uprising, becoming popular as tattoo designs among people outside of the Maori indigenous people of New Zealand. Along with this, many Maori are again starting to practice the traditional method of Ta Moka, as it symbolizes an outward expression of commitment and respect [1].

Another form of the Maori Aesthetic, is the traditional Maori carving which consisted of carving into wood, bone, and stone [3]. The shapes and patterns carved into these materials were like those resembled in the Ta Moka. Many of the carvings that the Maori did were symbolical and held various meanings and beliefs. For example, the Hei Matau, is a bone or green stone carving in the shape of a stylish fishing hook [4]. This represents good luck and safe travels across water [4] to the Maori.

Image result for hei matau

Today, the Maori aesthetic is generally seen through the forms of tattoos and designs that feature the patterns and forms that derive from Maori traditions and culture. For example, below are multiple images that portray art and designs that incorporate Maori “styles” into them. These have become quite popular and have been used in a wide variety of applications besides just carvings, paintings and tattoos. For example, many artists and small companies use the Maori aesthetic to create digital designs for printing on multiple mediums such as canvas, shirts, notebooks, etc…

Image result for maori art      Image result for maori art   Image result for maori art     Image result for maori art








Maori Tattoos: Mythology, Origins, And Meanings Of Ta Moko.


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4 Comments. Leave new

  • I love that you chose this aesthetic, as I have also been to New Zealand and appreciate the Maori representation heavily! I like the pieces you chose to show, particularly the one that appears to be a patterned wave. The Maori Aesthetic is fascinating to me in that it can have such an organic, yet geometric feel to it. It is awesome how they can take something organic like a shark fin and abstractly it into a pattern. Do you plan on utilizing the feel of this aesthetic in any of your work?

    • That is awesome that you have also been to New Zealand! I can’t believe how many people in the class have visited down there! But with regards to your question about utilizing this aesthetic in my work, I wasn’t planning on it initially, but now that you mention it, I think I might be able to incorporate it into my Final Project that I have an idea for. I am not quite sure how it will work logistically, but if it works it would make my final piece even more special.

  • Justin Engbrecht
    January 23, 2020 8:31 pm

    Hello Austin! Excellent choice of aesthetic. I also have had the good fortune of being able to visit New Zealand’s North Island a few winters ago. It almost instantly struck me how different the country’s dynamic with its indigenous population is compared to our own country, or that of the neighboring country of Australia. The Maori population appears to be a great source of pride for the country. The Hei Matau looks impressive, and must be a result of a meticulous process. Do you know if the bone Hei Matau shown is an example of scrimshaw (made from whale bone) ? One design I saw a lot during my trip – even present on the national rugby team (All Blacks) jerseys – was the silver fern, which is featured prominently in a lot of traditional Maori art. Typically, the Maori art shows the shape of a newly unfurling frond of the silver fern, and the form is known as “Koru” meaning “loop” or “coil” in Maori. Have you had a chance to explore traditional Maori architecture and music? Also if you are not familiar with the Maori Haka, look it up, as it is an powerful display of ceremonial Maori dance.

    -Justin Engbrecht

    • That is awesome that you also have been to New Zealand! My family is actually from the southern island so that is primarily where I visit. I am not entirely sure if the bone of Hei Matau is an example of scrimshaw but I will look into that. The silver fern, just like you pointed out, is a huge part of their culture and identity down in New Zealand. I personally haven’t had the time to visit traditional Maori architecture during my time down in New Zealand, but will have to check that out next time! Also, I am familiar with the Maori Haka and absolutely love it. It gets me fired up every time I see it!


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