Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

Pīwakawaka • Fantail


The Pīwakawaka or Fantail is one of New Zealand’s smaller native birds and as its name suggests has tail feathers that splay out in the shape of a fan. This gives the Fantail its distinctive flying style of very short bursts of speed and swift turns with acute accuracy, enabling it to chase and catch the tiniest of insects. One could describe this as a well choreographed dance in mid air and therefore the Fantail is one bird whose movements are often mimicked by warriors in the art of mau rākau (Māori weaponry). To perform and practice the quick sharp movements of the Fantail meant that the warrior would become very light and agile on his feet. This also translated into the striking blows of combat and when mastered this particular style was deadly. A warrior would also interpret these movements with his weapon as to distract his opponent and therefore could catch him off guard.

These elements are represented in the composition of this piece which aims to capture the harmony between grace, finesse, speed and agility. The Fantail form is evident with its tail implied through negative space. This also suggests its rapid movements in flight and the intent to create a visual distraction. The overall form pays reference to two separate elements that contrast and yet compliment each other. One is of the Fantail’s signature tail feather and the other is the blade of the formidable staff weapon called the taiaha.

—Todd Couper

Todd Couper

Todd Couper


Ngāti Kahungunu

(1974- )

Todd attended Te Aute Boys College in Hawkes Bay from 1987 to 1991 and quickly excelled in art. In 1995, he completed the Diploma of Art, Craft and Māori Design at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua; he majored in woodcarving/sculpture and graduated with honours. It was during this time that he met Roi Toia, who was teaching there. Roi, impressed with his talent, invited Todd to apprentice with him. They continue to work together, but Todd has forged his own style and direction in carving, with commissioned pieces residing in collections in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. He participated in Kiwa: Pacific Connections (2003) in Vancouver, Canada.