The phrase ‘body of work’ is especially fitting for this collection of carved and cast sculptures by Chris Bailey (Ngāti Hako, Ngāti Pāoa, Te Aupouri, Ngāti Porou, Irish). Bailey describes them as a manifestation of his pepeha: the carvings physically describe the artist’s relationship to the whenua and to his tupuna. They are marker posts that situate the sculptor firmly in te ao Māori - past, present, and future.
Tōtara’s renowned longevity and status as a rakau rangatira is fitting for Te Iti ō Hauraki, which speaks of the artist’s female ancestor Ruawhea, whose ancestral claim to Hauraki allowed the descendants of Marutuahu to enter the area once she married Tamaterā. The work depicts Ruawhea flanked by her offspring, who feature in the whakapapa of many Hauraki iwi. (1)
The wood gleams with life. The shou sugi ban (3) finish lends a rich lustre to the tōtara, enhancing the feeling that the soft indentations covering the surfaces could have been pressed into the tōtara by their maker’s hand alone. The carvings have a sensuous fleshiness that resonates with the saying they reference.
Once no longer fit for sea-going, waka hulls were often used to mark places of importance, including burial sites. The wooden Whaka-mau-maharatanga pays respect to Te Kōpuarahi, the urupa where Bailey’s tupuna rest just behind his marae, Kerepēhi. The cast bronze Ngā Uri ō Piako refer to those whose awa is the Piako, once fed by the (now drained) wetlands of the Hauraki Plains (4). The weighty permanence of bronze is a reminder that the river is a taonga whose wealth lies both in its resources and in its mauri, each vital for the people’s well-being.
Pou Atua Tuatahi, Tuarua, and Tuatoru (The First, Second and Third Posts that reach to the Heavens) are works with which Bailey confronts the suppression of mātauraunga Māori by colonising powers. The pou re-assert their place on the land as they reach skywards in the same way as the artist seeks to re-engage with the knowledge and practices which structured the physical and spiritual worlds of tangata whenua for centuries.