Ngatai Taepa


Ngataiharuru Taepa has Te Arawa, Te Āti Awa and Pākehā ancestry. His grandmother is a painter, his father Wi Taepa is a noted clay worker, and his brother, Kereama, is a mixed-media artist.

Taepa’s serious involvement in Māori visual arts and practice began in 1994 at Ngatokowaru Marae in Levin, at a hui organised by Te Atinga, the contemporary visual arts committee of the arts trust, Toi Māori Aotearoa. From that initial experience, and his subsequent studies for a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Māori Visual Arts at Massey University, he was elected to the Te Atinga committee in 2000.

In 2001, he described his practice simply as exploratory. “I am very much at a learning stage. I’m like a dry sponge, soaking up everything. I’m just trying to take in as much as I can.”

Influences during his studies came not only from leading Māori artists, such as his teachers, Robert Johnke, Shane Cotton and Kura Te Waru Rewiri, but also from te reo Māori revivalists, like Taiarahia Black, Ian Christensen and Pare Richardson.

“Doing te reo at varsity, studying Te Kooti and [reading] Mason Durie’s writing on mana whenua [tribal authority in tribal areas] … inspired me. I think going to study at Massey University opened me up to different ways of working, of expressing Māori art, of other ways to express ideas through art. We looked at the whakairo [carving] and raranga [weaving] created from the 1800s through to now. We had exposure to the work of contemporary artists like Buck Nin, Cliff Whiting, Ralph Hotere, Selwyn Muru and Arnold Wilson. We also studied different artistic groups overseas. I was pretty taken by the New York artists and the American modernists.”

Taepa’s most recent body of works harks back to the previous generation of Māori artists, including his father, who brought Māori visual arts into the context of New Zealand dealer art galleries. As a child Taepa recalls sitting around the kitchen table and listening to his father’s conversations with artists like Manos Nathan, Darcy Nicholas, Robyn Kahukiwa and Ngamoana Raureti. “All these people were talking about the issues of the time … I was just the boy getting the cups of tea. I have been really fortunate in that way and it’s shaped my work and how I work. It inspired me and also gave me a little bit of knowledge, hearing about the struggles they faced as Māori artists, the different issues and how they have dealt with them. I think that is a big part of my art-making.”

The kōwhaiwhai has been a prominent feature of Taepa’s work for a number of years. “I guess I’ve always been into kōwhaiwhai, as far back as I can remember … I’m revisiting a lot of the customary conventions surrounding them. I really enjoy the surface, positive and negative space, line work, the pītau [plant shoot] and the kape [eyebrow] patterns, and the way they were originally laid down. Raharuhi Rukupo, the esteemed tohunga whakairo [expert carver] of Rongowhakaata and the principal director and carver of Te Hau ki Turanga whare, inspired me with the pītau-ā-manaia [figurative form of kōwhaiwhai] pattern.”

“For me, kōwhaiwhai is an expression of the way our ancestors saw the world in their time. Their achievement, using positive and negative spaces, was to have the colours interact simultaneously – as opposed to how most people think now. Now we’re taught to see the positive space and not the space around it. It’s one of the simple conventions of kōwhaiwhai, but for me it’s achieving excellence through simplicity. How do you get to that level? That’s what fires me up.”

The preservation of Māori knowledge is seen by Taepa as being important for both Māori and non-Māori. “My personal wish for Māori knowledge is that it is fluid and remains a living thing, so people are living according to that tikanga, that knowledge. That’s important to me. My grandfather Hohepa Taepa had that. He was a minister, very much a public person, and held in high regard as a holder of Māori knowledge. He felt that it was important to share his learning not only with the Māori community but also wider communities so that it could be beneficial to all people.” As a lecturer in the Māori Visual Arts programme at Massey University, Taepa continues his grandfather’s legacy of contributing to the preservation of Māori culture.

Ngataiharuru Taepa in conversation with Huhana Smith, in Huhana Smith (gen. ed.), Taiāwhio II: Contemporary Māori artists, 18 New Conversations (Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2007) pp. 228-243.

Taepa was born in Upper Hutt, Wellington in 1976. He now lives and works in Palmerston North. Taepa has Te Arawa, Te Āti Awa and Pākehā ancestry .

Taepa’s interest in the visual arts began while attending Te Aute college in Napier. He had the privilege of observing and assisting with the making of kōwhaiwhai panels for meeting house Te Whare o Rangi under the guidance of art teacher Mark Dashper. He continued studying art at Massey University, Palmerston North with lecturers Robert Jahnke, Kura Te Waru Rewiri and Shane Cotton. Taepa completed his Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts in 2000, and his Masters in Māori Visual Arts in 2003 and is now a lecturer in the Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts programme.

In 2000 Taepa was elected onto Te Atinga, the Visual Arts Committee within the Māori arts organisation Toi Māori Aotearoa. Taepa’s involvement with different Toi Māori hui has created experiences of interaction with many artists from New Zealand and cultures throughout the Pacific. He sees these interactions as an important part of his creative process.

His current practice includes installation works which look at contemporary issues within New Zealand society, as well as paintings that are fueled by a childhood fascination with kōwhaiwhai .


Completed Masters of Māori Visual Arts, Massey University, Palmerston North

Completed Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts, Massey University, Palmerston North


Abstract Aotearoa: Toi Art, Te Pap Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand

Necessary Distraction, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland
Te Tini a Pitau: 12 Years of Kowhaiwhai, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua

Tane Pupuke, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington

Kua Riro, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
5th Auckland Triennial, Fresh Gallery Otara, Auckland

Colour, Value and Perspective , Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Ka kata te po: Hemi Macgregor, Saffronn Te Ratana and Ngataiharuru Taepa, Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, Palmerston North

Te Hatete o Te Reo, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Double Vision: When Artists Collaborate, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua

Te Pitau a Tiki, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Mua Ki Muri, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua
PLASTIC MĀORI – A Tradition of Innovation, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt

Manawarangi, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Tu te manu ora i te Rangi, Thermostat Gallery, Palmerston North

Haeata, Page Blackie Gallery, Wellington
Āe AM, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington
Telecom Prospect 2007: New Art New Zealand, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington

He Rau Kawakawa, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington

Āpiti, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington
Whanau, ArtsPost, Hamilton
Manawa Taki – The Pulsing Heart, Michael Hirschfeld Gallery, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington
Ngaru Rua, Scott Ormond Gallery, Napier

Te Whare Toi, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt
Te Maia, Hawkes Bay Exhibition Centre, Hastings
Kia Kaha, Hawkes Bay Exhibition Centre, Hastings
He Rere Kee, Tinakori Gallery, Wellington

Kiwa Pacific Connections – Māori Art from Aotearoa, Spirit Wrestler Gallery, Vancouver, Canada
Te Wehenga, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii
Kurakura Toi Māori, Christchurch Polytechnic, Christchurch
Conversation Pieces, Michael Hirschfeld Gallery, City Gallery Wellington, Wellington

Mangōpare, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua

Te Rei Taniwha, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua
Purangiaho – Seeing Clearly, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland

Te Ra, Maia Gallery, Gisborne
Matatau, Te Manawa Museum of Art, Science and History, Palmerston North
Chip off the Old Block, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua

Fathers and Sons, Pataka Art + Museum, Porirua
Mahurangi, Pipitea Marae, Wellington

Te Kopana, Pipitea Marae, Wellington


Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland, New Zealand
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand
Auckland War Memorial Museum, Auckland, New Zealand
Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, Wellington, New Zealand
Wellington City Council, Wellington, New Zealand
Various private collections


Smith, H. (ed.), Taiāwhio II: Contemporary Māori Artists, 18 New Conversations (Wellington: Te Papa Press, 2007)

“Expression of remembrance,” Manawatu Standard, 14 April 2014, available here

Dekker, D., “Innocence & Experience,” The Dominion Post, 14 July 2014, A11