James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Maori art turns French heads

Paora Toi Te Rangiuaia is close to finishing his carving at Les Lapidiales in the Port d'Envaux village, France.
Paora Toi Te Rangiuaia is close to finishing his carving at Les Lapidiales in the Port d'Envaux village, France.

An enormous hand-sculpted rock carving in France nearly six years in the making could be the largest work of Maori art in the Northern Hemisphere, its creator says.

It's at Les Lapidiales in the Port d'Envaux village, part of the Charente Maritime region, about a 90-minute drive north of Bordeaux.

Paora Toi Te Rangiuaia (Ngati Porou) began working on the 10m by 5m sculpture in 2009 after sculptors he met in Switzerland recommended he visit Les Lapidiales - an old limestone quarry that is being used as a sculpture park.

The project, De l'Ambime A l'Azur': From the depths of the earth to the Blue Azure, has been split into two-month residencies that have taken place every two years.

The work, which is nearly finished, depicts the Maori goddess of death, Hinenuitepo, a tuatara, and the moko of Tanenuiarangi, who according to Maori belief ascended the heavens to bring knowledge to the Earth.

"This work is in response to the cave's internal sculpture of skeleton and skulls which I viewed in 2007 and reminded me of Maori use of caves for the interment of bones. So the Maori genesis of life and death is portrayed by these images."

Mr Toi Te Rangiuaia said his work followed that of his great-grandfather Riwai Pakerau, who adopted European and American influences in his kowhaiwhai work on East Coast whare nui.

He said the project had deliberately been kept low-profile and people were constantly amazed by the scale of his work and his hand-made approach.

"The sculpture of Tanenuiarangi as a Ta Moko mask will be finished this year but it is my hope that when we return in 2015 we will have a small ope [group] to carry out the Mauri ceremony and affix the pounamu to this work."

The sculpture park has featured the work of about 60 artists from 24 countries.

- NZ Herald

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