The difference between Maori design and Western design?by Corinne Smith on 07/08/2012
Last week we spoke to Johnson Witehira, designer and artist who specialises in kaupapa Maori graphic design and Maori design practices about his Te Reo typeface Whakarare. Witehira’s insight into his process lead to bigger question:
What is the difference between Maori design and Western design?
Witehira shared his thoughts:
The answer to this depends on how you define what Maori design is. For me, it’s design that is primarily created for a Maori audience, and includes Maori content or ideas in some way. I don’t necessarily think that Maori design, is or has to be created by Maori designers. This is because the majority of Maori design we see in the public sphere is probably created by Pakeha designers and aided by Maori ‘cultural experts’. However, this highlights another big problem.
Firstly, there aren’t enough Maori designers with western design skills. Design has its whakapapa in European art and design schools, and as such if Maori want to be good ‘designers’ as such, than they need this traditional western design base. In saying that though, to do ‘Maori design’ e.g. design for a Maori audience with Maori content, designers, whether Maori or Pakeha, also need to have a strong base in matauranga Maori and be familiar with customary Maori art practices. Personally, I think there are too many Maori artists and designers who have no idea about the Maori content they are using.
Secondly, design organisations often hire “Maori cultural advisors”, who might have great te reo skills or knowledge about tikanga, but who might have no training in the Maori arts at all. It’s not hard to see that this could lead to inappropriate uses of customary imagery. Businesses or design companies need to be more aware of who they are hiring as ‘cultural advisors’, and that they have skills appropriate to the design problems.
A kaupapa Maori approach to design demands that a designer engaging with Maori content must have expert knowledge in both the worlds of western design and Maori art and design. While I don’t think this view is shared by many of my contemporaries working with Maori design, I think its important to lay a platform that’s both rigorous and flexible. The platform must be rigorous to maintain cultural integrity, because design is inextricably tied to the world of commerce. It must also be flexible because cultural integrity and commerce don’t always fit together nicely.
What do you think is the difference between Maori design and Western design?
Image credit: Johnson Witehara