Wi Taepa


Wi Taepa

2022 Te Karere Interview with Wi Taepa on the occasion of his appointment to be an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit


Born 1946 Wellington
Te Arawa, Ngati Pikiao, Te Atiawa

Wi Taepa was a display artist before he enlisted for the New Zealand Army and served in Vietnam. He later worked in security, in the penal system and the Department of Social Welfare. In 1983 he was involved in the carving projects at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, and the Orongomai Marae, Upper Hutt. He followed this with a period of study in craft design at Whitirea Polytechnic and has been a tutor there since 1993.

As a student he worked with a number of media, including clay, which offered him a welcome level of freedom. It contrasted with the tight specifications usually imposed when he carved stone or wood. His imagery evolved from his Maori heritage: the designs of the past and listening to historical narratives fed his fertile mind. Whakapapa (genealogy) provided the content, and he honored this by revisiting early styles of working.

Taepa enjoys reclaiming and transposing little-known processes to his clay work. One of the techniques he uses is punch marking, which is an old way of working that evolved from notching in very early Maori carving and is only occasionally seen. He looks to the way curvilinear lines were created without stone chisels, and replaces very basic tools like sticks with contemporary man made tools. The simple stick marks are replicated with an egg slice or a ballpoint pen, and patterns are rolled as if onto fabric. There are references to rolled color and punch marks in the Lapita pottery traditions of Samoa, and Taepa is keen to explore any possible connections between Maori carving and Lapita pots.

His works are hand built and unglazed. Taepa likes to work very fast to capture the spontaneity of his first thoughts. He recognizes that clay is not a medium which can be wholly controlled. He likes to let the colors from the earth emerge during firing as they do in nature – not just the red, white and black associated with Maori art, but a broad color spectrum that includes maroons, the silvers and greys of trees as well as the colors of animals, sea and plant life.

His earliest forms in clay referred to utensils like gourds and pieces of weapons. The asymmetrical growth rings of trees like kanuka inspired their surface treatment, and the forms were made slightly off-centre to personalize them. Some of his forms come from Maori ceremony, but by expanding the scale of them the way the viewer engages with the work changes. He is able to present a different viewpoint. An example is a huge feeding funnel which would be used in order not to break the tapu (taboo) imposed when moko (traditional tattoo) is applied. He also makes canoe forms that evoke how Maori came to New Zealand.

The beautifully detailed, doughnut shaped work Ipu (vessel) was created for Uku! Uku! Uku! At the International Festival of the Arts, Wellington, 1998. So too were a number of sculptural pieces like boundary pegs. In the past Maori would define boundaries with groups of stones or carved pieces of wood. Taepa created minimalist, faceless works in clay that evoked these markers – like god-sticks. They are a shift from his earlier, more easily recognized figures: here the stance or shape of the head gives viewers clues, yet allows them to tell their own stories.


2022 Taepa has been named an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori art, particularly ceramics

Works in Ceramics and Bronze, Glenn Green Galleries, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Father and Sons , “Chip off the Old Block” Pataka , Porirua
Opening Exhibition Kura Gallery, Wellington

“Rim of Fire”—Pataka Porirua Museum of Arts and Culture
“Nga Korero Aotearoa” – Dowse Art Museum
Kura Gallery, Taupo
“Clay Te Pai” Geoff Wilson Gallery Whangarei
BFA Graduation Exhibition Wanganui

4 Exhibition—4 Workshops—clay, stone, bone

Major Exhibitions:

“Uku-Uku-Uku” New Zealand Festival of the Arts
Page 90 opening of the new Porirua Art Centre
Research production manager- “Uku-Uku-Uku” New Zealand Festival of the Arts
James Wallace Gallery, Auckland
Exhibitions- “Haka” Bath, England
Exhibitions- San Francisco, USA
CHACDS Conference- Palmerston North
1998 Whitirea Polytechnic – Certificate Adult Teaching—Accelerated Learning Certificate
Resident Artist Mentor – 1994-98 Wanganui RC Polytechnic

Exhibitions 8 workshops -- Clay, Stone, Bone
Te Papa Tongawera
Dowse Art Resource Center
Research for New Zealand Festival of the Arts Exhibition
Major Sculpture Porirua City Arts

Workshops 8 Exhibitions -- 3 Major Exhibitions:
“Patua” City Art Gallery, Wellington – International Festival of the Arts
7th Pacific Festival of the Arts, Samoa
“Kupenga” stone Symposium, New Plymouth
2 Solo Exhibitions

1995 6 Workshops – workshops – clay, 7 exhibitions
Guest artist – NZ Potters Conference
Guest Artist – Bishop Suter Gallery, Nelson
Invited Artist—International Symposium of Contemporary Indigenous Visual Arts
Major Exhibition – Zimbabwe National Art Gallery, Harare, Africa
Research trip – Brisbane, Bangkok, London,Rome,Paris, Nairobi, Zimbabwe

10 Workshops – Clay, stone 6 Exhibitions – 3 Major
“NZ Choice” Rancho Santiago College, Santa Ana, USA
Contemporary Maori Art Exhibition – International Festival of the Arts
“Kurawaka” – 5 Maori clay workers—Dowse Art Museum


1999, 1997, 1998-92, 1980, 1978
• BFA Wanganui Regional Polytechnic
• Massey University-Maori Design Nga Hanga Whakairo
• Whitirea Polytechnic – Diploma Craft Design
• Wellington Polytechnic- Quantity Cookery – Maori Intensive Language course
• Prison Staff College – Penology – Acts and Regulation

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