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Shower curtain murals ‘profoundly insulting’

Wednesday 22 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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NEW ZEALAND – An American online store selling shower curtains depicting historic Maori is being called deplorable for the culturally inappropriate items.

Images of about 15 of Gottfried Lindauer portraits, including those of Maori leaders, are being sold as shower curtains for just under $100 by the Fine Art America website.

One listed item features a Maori fort under attack by colonial soldiers.

Lindauer painted the detailed portraits of Maori in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Professionally trained at the Academy Fine Arts in Vienna, he migrated to New Zealand in 1874.

Lindauer’s first portraits of Maori were painted in Nelson. After a move to Auckland in the mid 1870 he met businessman, Henry Partridge, who over the next 30-plus years commissioned from Lindauer numerous portraits of eminent Maori, both living and deceased, as well as large-scale depictions of re-enactments of traditional Maori life and customs.

The aim of the project was to create a pictorial history of Maori at a time when it was widely, though mistakenly, believed that Maori were dying out, either literally or as a distinct cultural group.

Art historian Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, also a descendent of some of the Lindauer subjects, said shower curtains was an example of the Maori culture being exploited, and it was appalling.

She said Maori images on tea towels and crockery were bad enough – but this was much worse.

“To actually see Wiremu Kingi as a shower curtain is absolutely extraordinary and profoundly hurtful. The arrogance of art producers in Western creators’ commerce never fails to amaze me.

“In traditional cultural terms, in the context of tikanga Maori of Maori values around the sanctity of the body and the intimacy of the bathroom, to have an ancestor as a shower curtain is profoundly insulting.”

The shower curtain images include iwi leader Rewi Manga Maniapoto, and the Taranaki leader and chief of the Te Ati Awa Tribe, Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake.

A lawyer for three iwi in the Wai 262 Treaty claim over cultural and intellectual property rights, Maui Solomon, said the copyright for the Lindauer artworks had expired so there was nothing to stop the images being used in such an offensive way.

“This is why the original Wai 262 claimants to cultural and intellectual property rights claim brought to the Waitangi tribunal had asked for better recognition and protection of Maori cultural intellectual property,” he said.

“Because the intellectual property rights system doesn’t provide the sort of protection that would protect these images against culturally inappropriate misuse such as this one.”

Solomon said that despite recommendations to set up a commission to help protect Maori cultural property the government had done nothing.

He said descendants of those depicted in the artwork should write to Fine Art America explaining that the images on the shower curtains are offensive and done without consultation with Maori.

- RNZI/PNC