14 December 2011

Charles Goldie's Maori Portraits

Charles Frederick Goldie is one of the most famous and controversial artists from New Zealand, although I had never heard of him before coming here. When I first saw his Maori portraits, I was drawn to them, and I think many others have the same reaction.

Te Papatahi

Ina Te Papatahi was one of Goldie’s favorite models and the above image is one of his earliest portraits of her. Goldie sought out elderly subjects, particularly those wearing traditional moko (facial tattoos). I don't know what it is about this painting that I love so much, but I suspect it's the contrast with my own cultural upbringing. An elderly woman with a facial tattoo, smoking a pipe? It's something I'm not used to.  I like that about it.

Te Papatahi

I also find his portraits haunting. There is something sad about most of his subjects, evoking a sense of loss. Goldie was convinced the Maori were on the brink of being wiped out, or assimilated by the pakeha*.  He saw his work as representative of the last surviving members of a dying culture.

*Pakeha is the Maori equivalent of "gringo," just so you know.

Charles Goldie

Goldie's work is seen by some as racist, but many Maori appreciate his paintings of their ancestors. Other critics complain he did not branch out enough, that his work was repetitive. Personally, I think he could have benefited by represented the Maori in different ways, more representative of the culture as alive instead of as a relic.

Charles Goldie
Left: Ina Te Papatahi Right: Charles Goldie at work

Charles Goldie
For once, a smiling portrait!  But why is the only smiling man dressed in the European fashion?

Read more about Charles Goldie & his work here.


Katherine said...

Todd and I have been hitting up lot of antique shops lately, and I've been seeing those fans - I REALLY want one, but apparently they're popular because they are out of my price range! But you are right, the patina on objects makes them so beautiful and I think embodies their life story.

Have I mentioned I really love reading your blogs??

Kristen said...

They do tend to be pricey, but I keep hoping I will either find one under priced at an estate sale, or else that I can buy a cheap broken one that Sam can fix for me. They are pretty simple, so maybe you should consider refurbishing a broken one as well?