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Quotes for Archaeologists

"The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it" Oscar Wilde. 1891. The Critic as Artist.

"A thing belongs to the one who remembers it most obsessively" Kanan Makiya. 2001. The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem.

"About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorise; and I remember some one saying that at this rate a man might well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe their colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of service." Charles Darwin 1861.

"Problems can not be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them." Albert Einstein

"Archaeologists ought to be grateful to worms, as they protect and preserve for an indefinitely long period every object, not liable to decay, which is dropped on the surface of the land, by burying it beneath their casting." Charles Darwin 1881

"The hardest thing about being a communist is trying to predict the past." Milovan Djilas (1911-1995), Yugoslav author-politician. Djilas was warning apparatchiks rather than Marxist archaeologists - but still ....

"You never know how the past is going to turn out." Jude Quinn in I'm Not There, 2007

"Astronomers have a great advantage over archaeologists: they can see the past." Loeb and Pritchard, New Scentist 27 Oct 2012

"The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

"... everything happens in its own time" Bob Dylan, BBC interview

"Time is not a thing that passes ... it's a sea on which you float." Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

"I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times." (Psalm 77:5 (King James Version)

"The more one can see the past the more one can see the future." David Hockney Secret Knowledge 2006:197.

"In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured." Victor Frankl 1946 Man's Search for Meaning.

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." George Orwell 1984

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Tuesday, 29 January 2008


Hamish Keith 2007 The Big Picture. A History of New Zealand Art from 1642. Random House, Auckland.

Hamish Keith has for long been claiming to have personally caused a revolution in the perception and handling of Maori art.

His latest:




The two cultures might not yet have come together, but they were now at least standing on the banks of the same contemporary river. It would be another twenty years before the Te Maori exhibition would restore to Maori art the same history, value and context that pioneer art historians had given to contemporary Pakeha artists.
The 1984 Te Maori exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was a powerful watershed, not in the making of Maori art, but in the public perception of it. Te Maori launched the great treasures of Maori art into the modern world in the context of one of the world's great art museums. Its organisers intentions were subversive ... to lift the shroud of the fictitious past that New Zealand's natural history museums had laid over it and reconnect it with the present as a living part of New Zealand's culture ... all of New Zealand's culture, not just the Maori bit.
Until Te Maori, Maori art in a museum context was presented as either belonging to a prehistoric past or as a snapshot of a moment in historical time, 1769, when Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks first encountered it. So total was this view that even modern historians had trouble accepting that the different glimpse of it provided by Tasmans draughtsman Isaac Gilsemans, in 1642, had any validity.
Whenever it was made, art is a living part of now. It is not just evidence of the past or something addressed to a vague posterity. But with the museum sanctioned coats of red paint and the historical implications of its presentation, a powerful and entirely false idea was established that all Maori art belonged to a vanished, hunter-gatherer past. As a result any meaningful contemporary conversation with Maori works of art was hard to come by. As the African writer Franz Fanon has pointed out, one of the processes of colonisation is to mummify the art of a colonised people in museums and present it as belonging only to the past and closed to the future.
One of the great defining moments of Te Maori was when the Pukeroa waharoa held by Auckland Museum emerged from its coats of concealing red enamel in the full red, green and white glory of its 19th-century colours. After Te Maori nothing about Maori art would seem the same. The exhibition restored to Maori art a continuity that revealed the possibility of a clear and consistent evolution into the 20th century.
The great carved and painted houses could now be seen not as remnants of a distant past but standing clearly at the beginnings of the modem world. They were the works of a culture not oppressed or defeated by contact, but defiant and radical in the response to challenge and change.


 Whew ... well lets look at some of these claims. 



It would be another twenty years before the Te Maori exhibition would restore to Maori art the same history, value and context that pioneer art historians had given to contemporary Pakeha artists.

 




Up until about 1970 there had been far more published about Maori art than there had been in the way of historical analysis of Pakeha artists. Nothing to be restored. Contemporary Maori Art was alive and well in 1984, with its connection to past art well established. It too did not need restoring. 




The 1984 Te Maori exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was a powerful watershed, not in the making of Maori art, but in the public perception of it. Te Maori launched the great treasures of Maori art into the modern world in the context of one of the world's great art museums. Its organisers' intentions were subversive ... to lift the shroud of the fictitious past that New Zealand's natural history museums had laid over it and reconnect it with the present as a living part of New Zealand's culture ... all of New Zealand's culture, not just the Maori bit.

 




Keith was of course an organiser of Te Maori so he is not an independent observer of its importance. So Maori art was only recognised as important in New Zealand by a showing at the Met? Many great treasures of 17th and 18th century Maori art are resident outside New Zealand and are treasured and displayed by the institutions that own them. Those in New Zealand were displayed and treasured. Te Maori certainly assembled many of the very best from around the country, but few New Zealanders saw it in New York, most experienced it through publications, and in its final exhibition on tour in New Zealand, where it was seen by an estimated 920,000. Surely a bit of cultural cringe to say it needed the Met to do this? The local tour was great. 




Until Te Maori, Maori art in a museum context was presented as either belonging to a prehistoric past or as a snapshot of a moment in historical time, 1769, when Captain James Cook and Joseph Banks first encountered it. So total was this view that even modern historians had trouble accepting that the different glimpse of it provided by Tasman's draughtsman Isaac Gilsemans, in 1642, had any validity.

 




Maori culture is presented in Museums as a culture. The average museum viewer needs to see it as a coherent whole, not taken into details of regional differentiation or change in the historical period. Largely that is still how museums present it. The big change is that the modern Maori community is engaged in how it is presented. That had started before Te Maori but it had a big part in settling it.

Keith deals with the subject elsewhere in his book: 



Gilsemans has been widely criticised for getting things wrong (p19). 



In support of the view of modern historians only Michael King is quoted in the book, pp19-20.The King reference is to The Penguin History of New Zealand,
(King 2003: 97-98). King says nothing of the sort. The only matter on which Keith disagrees with King is that King says the lack of moko in the Gilsemans depiction may have been because the people were not seen close up. Keith disagrees saying it was a close encounter. Yes it was for the boat that was rammed and the people in it that were clubbed, but the boat was between the ships and Gilsemans was not on it. King doesn’t say he got things wrong, only that he may not have seen. Keith suggests there may not have been any moko. Kings expectation that there might have been was well founded and not just based on 18th century and later depictions of Maori. We know that the first Maori practiced tattooing (King 2003:65).

This claim about modern historians views of Gilsemans looks like sloppy scholarship. 




Whenever it was made, art is a living part of now. It is not just evidence of the past or something addressed to a vague posterity. But with the museum-sanctioned coats of red paint and the historical implications of its presentation, a powerful and entirely false idea was established that all Maori art belonged to a vanished, hunter-gatherer past. As a result any meaningful contemporary conversation with Maori works of art was hard to come by.

 




No, art is not a new focus. The presentation standards have not greatly changed just as a result of Te Maori. The museum most influenced was Te Papa. Its displays that mixed dates and cultures were much criticised and have for the most part been removed. Its Maori section that had tiny almost illegible labelling; we were supposed to enjoy the form alone of the items on display; has not been followed elsewhere ... thank goodness.




Hunter-gatherer


... good grief. Keith has spent too much time in art museums. 



One of the great defining moments of Te Maori was when the Pukeroa waharoa held by Auckland Museum emerged from its coats of concealing red enamel in the full red, green and white glory of its 19th century colours. After Te Maori nothing about Maori art would seem the same. The exhibition restored to Maori art a continuity that revealed the possibility of a clear and consistent evolution into the 20th century. 




Auckland Museum started removing red paint from carvings well before Te Maori.
It started on this in 1981 and made the decision to treat the Pukeroa gateway in
1982 (Barton 1984:182). The removal commenced in 1982 (Barton 1983:7). Te Maori was not the watershed in recovering original surfaces - that had already
started. The display of the gateway was rightly a central part of Te Maori, but
the show was not the genesis of its recovery. 


Nor was time
differentiation new; that was well alive already in scholarship. 




Keiths piece is simply self-aggrandisement and poor scholarship.


 


References


King, Michael
2003 The Penguin History of New Zealand.


Barton, Gerry 1983 Te Maori Exhibition - Conseration tretments undertaken by the Auckland Museum conservation department. AGMANZ News 14(4):7-10.
Barton, Gerry 1984 Conservation Considerations on Four Maori Carvings at
Auckland Museum, New Zealand. Studies in Conservation, 29(4):
181-186.

 

The principal organisation for archaeologists in New Zealand is the New Zealand Archaeological Association.

My interests include: C14 dating, numerical taxonomy, site protection in development projects, web communication and museums.  

Garry Law
About me

This page is mainly about New Zealand archaeology.  The Blog here is some personal observations which I might make from time to time.

Archaeology in New Zealand is practiced in respect of the Maori (Polynesian) occupation of New Zealand (including the Kermadec Islands to the north and Chatham Islands in the east), starting perhaps 800 years ago, but also in respect of historic sites left by more recent visitors and immigrants, European and Chinese, since 1800 AD, looking at settlements and sealing, whaling and mining industries.

New Zealand archaeology relates particularly to New Zealand of course, but archaeologists based here also work in Polynesia, the rest of Oceania, particularly on Polynesian origins and also in South East Asia - particularly Thailand. There is also some research on historic sites in Antarctica. There are close professional relationships with Australian archaeologists and a quite a few there have come from here, but little research is conducted across the Tasman Sea in either direction.


Auckland, August 1908: A Stop on the Great White Fleet World Cruise 
By: Garry Law
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