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