A graduate of the Ilam School of fine arts, Canterbury University (1997), Mahiriki Tangaroa is an artist of regional renown. Her art primarily addresses change and identity within a modern Polynesian cultural context. Finding inspiration in pre-colonial Cook Islands artefacts, tapa, tattoo, legend and motif, as well as more recent post colonial influences, Tivaivai, Pareau, historical photographs – her research also includes the famous traditional Gods, the God of the Ocean, Tangaroa, the God of Agriculture and War, Rongo, and the unnamed Aitutaki goddess.
In an ongoing series of paintings, Tangaroa explores concepts of contemporary Pacific culture utilizing these traditional Cook Islands Gods. The Gods are depicted in their legendary human guise, confronted with the challenges of preserving cultural integrity in a modern milieu. ‘Environmental awareness and sustainability were central to the survival of diverse island societies, made up of people who lived close to the land and sea and who had the ability to read the diurnal, monthly and seasonal cycles of their environments. The island environment and the plants and animals in it were all integral parts of island eco-cultures. Today, knowledge and awareness of the environment are rapidly being eroded thanks to the kind of transformation and socialization that modern development has brought to our shores.’ – Konai Helu-Thaman.
Mahiriki Tangaroa has an engaging style of painting and an important narrative, as curator Arthur Buerms noted in 2019. ‘Each of the paintings is a visual feast catapulting you to a campfire where old stories, about the dangerous heights of the mysterious mountains, the spirits of the ever encircling sea, the expressive radiance of the fauna and flora, are told while dancing and eating. The evolution of her artwork can be read as a metaphorical voyage: Tangaroa’s journey, a voyage of the Cooks Islands as a constructed nation and her own personal voyage as a driving force in modern Pacific art.’
Mahiriki Tangaroa has been a catalyst for Rarotonga’s arts community, organizing multiple international artist residencies and training workshops for established and aspiring artists. Her extensive exhibition history includes shows in Rarotonga, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, Sydney, New York and Stockholm.
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