When the ancestors of the Māori people sailed to Aotearoa (New Zealand) roughly nine hundred years ago, they became the first Polynesians to settle a land outside the tropics. Previous generations of Polynesians had little need for clothing and made thin beaten barkcloth more for ceremonial purposes than for warmth. In Aotearoa, Māori women abandoned making barkcloth and turned instead to the harakeke plant (New Zealand flax), developing new techniques to twine its fibers into garments by hand, without benefit of a loom.
The finest cloaks, including some covered with stunning, iridescent feather work, transcended practical needs and became treasured markers of prestige. This exhibition features thirteen rare and beautiful nineteenth- and early-twentieth century cloaks, shown publicly for the first time since their arrival in Los Angeles in 1965 as part of a transformational gift to the Museum from the Wellcome Ethnological Collection in London. The exhibition includes a video in which a panel of Māori artists and scholars comment on the cloaks and their ongoing meanings and relevance.
This exhibition was curated by: Tharron Bloomfield (Ngāti Porou), Mellon Fellow, UCLA/Getty Conservation Program; Michelle Erai (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Whātua, and Ngāti Porou), Assistant Professor, Gender Studies, UCLA; Roy W. Hamilton, Senior Curator of Asian and Pacific Collections, Fowler Museum at UCLA; Karl Rangikawhiti Leonard (Te Arawa, Ngāti Awa, and Ngāti Raukawa), Fulbright Fellow, Flathead Valley Community College; and Rangi Te Kanawa (Ngāti Maniapoto), Textile Conservator, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.