With such a wealth of traditional motifs and myths, and such a variety of multicultural influences from which to draw inspiration for all genres from performance arts and painting through to crafts, it comes as no surprise that New Zealand art is world-class.
In the 20th Century, when realism and honesty about local life became key themes, artists like Rita Angus, Colin McCahon and Toss Woollaston came to prominence. Today, painters such as Shane Cotton, who incorporates Maori themes in his work to represent shared Maori and Pakeha experiences, are celebrated. Particularly renowned galleries include the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Plymouth, the Sarjeant Gallery in Whanganui, The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson (one of New Zealand’s oldest galleries), Christchurch Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. The World of WearableArt™ Gallery in Nelson showcases the full force of Kiwi creativity in the garment collection from the annual Brancott Estate World of Wearable Art™ Awards Show. A great way to experience arts and crafts is by visiting a workshop. Many studios offer visitors the opportunity to try weaving, for example at Te Puia in Rotorua, or carving; Hokitika on the West Coast is renowned for jade carving workshops. There are good art and craft trails in Kerikeri and Nelson.
One of the biggest inspirations for New Zealand artists is nature and the stunning landscape. While painters capture the scenery, others use natural materials such as flax and fern in their works. This is not a new development; Maori settlers developed motifs and artistic forms utilising natural resources from their earliest days in New Zealand, carving bone, stone, wood and shell, and weaving native fibres. In recent years, contemporary artists have woven a blend of histories and cultures, themes and styles together in their work, reflecting the diversity of New Zealand society.
It is common to see traditional Maori arts using contemporary mediums, and distinct Maori, Asian and Pacific Island influences can clearly be seen in other artworks. This blend reaches across all genres. Ancient Maori performance arts, for example, employ modern interpretations, while Kiwi musicians mix international styles with traditional Pacific influences, and New Zealand movies show at international film festivals.
New Zealand’s musical tradition dates back to the nation’s earliest settlement. In recent times local artists have mixed international styles with Maori and Pacific influences. Scribe, Split Enz, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Bic Runga, Lorde and the Flight of the Conchords have struck a chord with audiences worldwide, while songstress Hayley Westenra has featured on the classical music charts and Kiri Te Kanawa is an operatic force. Downloading some tracks and seeing a live band is a great way to sample local culture.
New Zealand’s relative isolation means that although themes similar to those of other postcolonial nations have slipped in, there are features of New Zealand writing which are completely unique. Kiwi writers aren’t afraid to speak their minds and to broaden the minds of others, whether in the prophetic poetry of James K. Baxter, the rich prose of Keri Hulme, the modern myths of Witi Ihimaera, or the searing autobiographies of Janet Frame. Children’s author Margaret Mahy has over 120 titles to her name and is beloved the world over, and New Zealand also has its own tradition of literary prizes, scholarships and festivals.
New Zealand has been on the professional theatre touring circuit since the 1860s. In the 1960s, Downstage Theatre in Wellington was established and other theatres soon followed; Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre, Christchurch’s The Court Theatre, Palmerston North’s Centrepoint, Wellington’s Circa and Auckland’s Mercury Theatre (now the Auckland Theatre Company) all now offer vibrant work from a full company. Amateur dramatic and operatic societies and repertory theatres can be found in main and smaller centres. Niche theatres abound, with children’s theatre, improvised comedy (theatre sports) and experimental theatre all finding an audience.
New Zealand’s diverse and dramatic landscapes are a major drawcard for filmmakers including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, directed by Wellington-based Peter Jackson. New Zealand was also the inspiration for the computer generated world of Avatar. Many distinctly New Zealand stories have been told on film: Whale Rider is a haunting tale of Maori culture and myth, while The World’s Fastest Indian tells the story of Southland motorcycle legend Burt Munro. Taika Waititi’s short film, Two Cars, One Night, and feature film, Boy, have shown in competition at Cannes and Sundance respectively. To enjoy Kiwi cinema, you can go on a LOTR tour