The huia, considered extinct since early in the 20th century, was a bird regarded as extremely precious. The male and female birds had different shaped beaks and were interdependent in their feeding habits. They mated for life and were held as an example of enduring conjugal affection.
Although many birds had feathers that were prized as adornments, the tail feathers of the huia with their distinctive white tips were reserved for those of great prestige and importance.
During the Royal Visit to NZ early in the 20th century, a huia feather was presented to the Prince of Wales, which he placed in his hat. Unfortunately, many New Zealanders not understanding the inference of the gift, thought it gave carte blanche for every-man to wear a huia feather in their hat. This, together with ornithologists gathering specimens for ‘scientific study’, and introduction of animals such as rats and cats has succeeded in eradicating this beautiful bird.
The print shows both the male (with the short beak) and the female with their tails spread in a fan shape in display. The stylized form of the birds and their positioning is a visual rendering of the need to bring elements into balance.
The kowhaiwhai (painted scroll work) element passing through the centre of the image is partly a representation of plant-life as seen in the bush, but also a lament for the generations of huia that have been cut short through lack of foresight. The paler green that follows through underneath the koru shapes, is the intent that the essence of the huia will continue within peoples’ lives, and perhaps in some hidden valley there is still a colony of these wondrous birds.
In short, the print is about the conservation of all things we hold precious.
Ngā Puhi, Te Ātiawa
Initially trained as a commercial artist, Gabrielle is now a full-time painter and printmaker. She continues to support and promote art in the local and wider community as current chair of Te Atinga (Committee of Contemporary Māori Visual Arts) of Toi Māori Aotearoa, a founding member of Kauwae (National Māori Women’s Art Collective), trustee of Toi o Manukau, a long-serving member of Nga Puna Waihanga (a national community-oriented organization that supports all Māori arts), a founding member of the artists’ co-operative Pukeko, and she serves on the Creative Community Funds committee for Manukau City.
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