‘My work is centred around the Treaty of Waitangi. It’s to do with rangatiratanga, our atua, our taonga, and rights, living rights, arts and cultural rights.’
– Emily Karaka
The Fisher Gallery exhibition offers us the opportunity to witness the latest work of Emily Karaka. Regarded by some as the whaea, Elder Woman, of Māori women artists, Emily Karaka had her first one-person show in 1980 at Auckland’s Outreach Gallery when she was only 28. Early mentors included Colin McCahon, whom Emily Karaka claims as one of her respected elders. Among others are Phillip Clairmont, Allen Maddox, Ralph Hotere and Tony Fomison.
The passion, polemic and sheer dimension of Emily Karaka’s early work came as a shock, not to mention the subjective slash of her methodology. One could conjecture that her male mentors would have been totally unaware that she would take the strength of their life force and apply it with similar potency and immediacy to her own. Largely self- taught, she developed a highly personal and expressive style that manifested itself in big complex, organically-inspired and discordant work, filled as much with words as with images. Her paintings not only eyeballed us; they shouted at and challenged us. For instance, Race Relations Triptych (1988) or Waitangi Wailing Wall (1990).
All this made Emily Karaka a wahine toa, the first Māori woman artist to work on the epic scale and, even today, one looks at her canvasses with the realisation that even they are still too small to carry her polemic.
– Witi Ihimaera
Emily Karaka: Waharoa o Ngai Tai – essay by Witi Ihimaera, 1997