Released January 25, 2008
Salem, Mass. — On February 23, the Peabody Essex Museum will open a remarkable exhibition of moko, the facial and body tattooing of Maori, New Zealand’s indigenous people. Thirty large-format portraits by award-winning photographer Hans Neleman and related 19th-century and contemporary Maori woodcarvings explore this tattoo tradition.
For hundreds of years, Maori moko has been an expression of personal history, pride, social and tribal identity, and whakapapa (ancestry). From 1907 to 1962, moko was a forbidden art, revitalized by Maori to counter laws denying them access to their lands, language, customs and beliefs. Complex and distinctive, these curvilinear, monochromatic tattoos are marks of prestige and honor for Maori men and women. Organized by Karen Kramer Russell, PEM assistant curator of Native American art, Body Politics will be on view through April 26, 2009.
“This exhibition explores the design and inspiration of a rich and living culture,” said Kramer Russell. “Hans Neleman’s sublime compositions and sensitive, intelligent approach to portraiture invite us to explore the Maori culture that embodies the art.”
The decision to wear moko is a major commitment and involves the subject’s family and iwi (tribe). Enhancing the contours of the face and body, each moko design is unique, belonging to the individual physically and intellectually, and may take years to create. Kimiora Ereatara Hohua shared part of her story with Neleman: “The bottom of the design [on my chin] represents my mountains, the sides my whakapapa, the curls at my lips my children, and the top spirals each side of my family.”
"Each image represents the strength and pride of Maori triumphing over an inequitable past,” said Hans Neleman. “They reveal majestic faces marked with permanent lines – lines of sacred heritage, of cultural commitment, of visual poetry and of personal pain. It is the revival of a tradition, the promise of Maori future inspired by the beauty of Maori past.”
About the Photographer
Hans Neleman is a New York-based photographer whose work has appeared in exhibitions worldwide. He has received numerous awards, including Photographer of the Year from American Photograph magazine, Kodak Young Photographer of the Year, and an Image Bank Award from Getty Images which resulted in the collection of Maori moko photographs that constitute this stunning exhibition.
Media partners for Body Politics are The Boston Phoenix and 101.7 WFNX. Additional Support provided by New Trade Winds/ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations), administered by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement.