Hostess with the Mostess

Maia Nuku is the Associate Curator for Oceanic art and is responsible for the Oceania collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and she is my primary point of contact here in New York. As well as developing collaborative projects with artists and scholars she also oversees permanent displays in the galleries and develops exhibitions and programs to engage new and diverse audiences.

Maia has not only been inspired to celebrate the legacy of Te Maori (an exhibition of taonga Maori that travelled to 4 major cities across the United States over 30 years ago) but is also looking to acknowledge artists who continue to push boundaries forward with new and progressive developments of indigenous art forms. It is within this framework that Dr. Nuku invited me to visit her at the museum and engage in some of the exciting initiatives she is programming. I am conducting research on the collections and have the opportunity to showcase my designs in a series of studio workshops in conjunction with the Met’s MediaLab.

Cristina Verán interviewed Maia last year when she started working at the Met and it’s a great read. Maia was influenced at an early age by art from the Pacific and remembers in particular an exhibition in London that left a strong impression: “A photographic exhibition called Moko: 19th Century Portrait Photographs of Maori [included] women from Ngati Kahungunu that totally inhabited the frame. Dressed in black taffeta and moiré-silk Victorian-style bustle dresses, I was taken with their strength and beauty, their faces offset by the dark ink of their moko kauae (tattooed chin markings), dramatic white-tipped huia feathers in their hair and greenstone hei tiki around their necks. Beautiful, bold and confident: their eyes met mine and I was transfixed.”

On opportunities for Pacific artists she explains that she has joined the Metropolitan at a particularly interesting time: “The museum is increasingly exploring the legacies of Modern and Contemporary art within the contexts of its global collections, so it’s a fascinating time to be here. Prior to my appointment, I was involved on a project called Multiple Modernisms: Twentieth-Century Artistic Modernisms in Global Perspective at Cambridge University, which is looking to reconfigure the accepted narrative of Modernism to include concurrent narratives – including those of Africa, Asia and the Pacific – which have tended to be relegated to the periphery. I definitely look forward to introducing my colleagues to the work of contemporary Pacific artists creating great work in the region.”

The main purpose behind delivering Rakeitia, is to bring the museum’s existing Pacific textile and fibre art treasures into the modern day by displaying these techniques as a living art form that supports indigenous practitioners. This will be how the Metropolitan gets a chance to observe my work, ask questions and even learn some of the traditional methods I use to make my own contemporary work. 

Ngamihinui Maia.

Clea Pettit