May 15, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Tiki Mania Maori – (high fashion) Made in Denmark?

4 min read

We recently came across Anne-Sofie Madsen, a European design student’s, 2009 Graduate Collection at the Danish Design School, entitled Tiki Mania Maori.

AnneSofieMadsenC5The drawn representations are unique and reflect indigenous women (one image is of Wahine Maori), all in various “haute couture” poses. Other representations of indigenous women seem to include the “Lae Kur” or “Kayan” of Chang Mai, Thailand.

Our ‘pedestrian’ (hey we rock Adidas and Pounamu) critique of the transition from sketch to fabric is not nearly as smooth, taking away the ethereal quality of her drawings. But what about the broader issue of appropriation vs art/design?

Madsen helps us by providing korero on her collection (on the school’s website) saying:

In traditional Maori art the most dominant, mythical motif is the avianised man or bird-woman.

The most important visual art forms are plaiting, relief carving and tattoo. My idea in this collection was to combine (and confront) this with classic, European clothing in order to express the contrasts and borders between what we see as primitive/civilized, exotic/classic and barbaric/elegant.

My idea was not to create bird suits or folk costumes and I decided not to use feathers in the garments and to translate the traditional materials of the Maori. I used shoelaces instead of flax strips and exchanged tattooed skin with leather applied on invisible tulle.

AnneSofieMadsenC3Hmmm, is Madsen being ironic, contentious or just insulting? Instead of flax… shoelaces and faux tattoos??? has covered this many times before (the question being, when is it art/design/fashion and when is it appropriation (of course these relationships aren’t mutually exclusive). We rose JeanPaulGauthierCthis issue most recently in a short article Art or Appropriation? A Maori Warrior: All White Edition and covered something very similar in 2007 when Jean Paul Gauthier misappropriated Maori moko and related imagery for one of his collections… and though our perspectives continue to develop we still feel uncomfortable with such representations…

Amokura Panoho has written a brilliant article on these tensions, her piece, Is Maori culture too precious to brand?, articulately details the inherent tensions that exist and importantly provides a strategy for developing Maori brands which could be used more universally when seeking to use symbols, motifs and designs from another culture, particularly with indigenous cultures. In it Kingi Gilbert, CEO of Ignite Studios, who has battled internationally to protect Maori imagery, says:

It is that exclusivity of our culture that creates tension here in New Zealand, he says. The concept of Maori is seen as older, in the past, but as Maori we know it to be a living culture. Yet it is our Pakeha contact that continues to define us in the national psyche and as a result our contribution continues to be undervalued. He goes on to say:

The risk is that an asset of enormous importance for Maori and New Zealand is misappropriated and misusedthe branding equivalent of a plastic tiki stamped Made in China. or in this case “Made in Denmark”!

Word on the digital fashion streets suggests that people are buying into this ill-informed understanding of Te Ao Maori. Rio, a fashion blogger at Le Chic Batik, was initially cautious of the collection saying:

For me, there exists a fine line between being inspired by a marginalized culture of people and fetishizing them. For that reason, I was cautious when I heard about a European design student who based her collection from the aesthetic traditions of the Maori people.

A checklist for developing Maori brands

Choose your cultural adviser careful

Successful Maori artists and designers are best as they have spent a lifetime grappling with the issues of appropriation and innovation from tradition

If the design concept is replicating a traditional concept this should be acknowledged, especially when submitting for consideration by a client

There is a distinct difference between sensationalising the appropriation of an art form or design and offering it as a tribute to the unique form

If the difference isnt clear then you have the wrong adviser or designer

Bottom line: buyer beware, and always check the credentials of your supplier

However, Rio goes on to conclude “that after reading Madsens statement and seeing her designs… it seems like her inspiration has been gracefully applied. These look like valid translations that required a delicate maneuver of skill and imagination. I found the sketches just as interesting, if not more, than the collection itself.”

This seems to illustrate exactly the danger which exisits when someone “interprets’ another’s culture. Madsen’s very “loose” understanding of Te Ao Maori is at the heart of it… her (mis)information then goes on to inform others who in turn believe they have learned something new creating an false illusion of knowledge.

Because Madsen is eloquent or “graceful” in both her words and drawings she has led most viewers to conclude that her work is authenic.

Our take on it…

Is Madsen talented? Yes.
Can she draw? Yes.
Does she understand the “aesthetic traditions” of Maori? NO.

From where we sit, she is yet another designer who has recreated a representation of us without any wairua and without a narrative which reflects who we are, so yep pretty pretty pictures, pity about the lack of authenticity…

Conclusion, sincere yet stylised appropriation!

Below are both her designs and sketches:


10 thoughts on “Tiki Mania Maori – (high fashion) Made in Denmark?

  1. Hi Sandi,

    It is fair enough to gain inspiration from something, but to not fully understand what you're gaining inspiration from – defeats the purpose of being inspired to start with. To negotiate your own stance in a contemporary world, is to understand the roots that founded it to begin with. For instance, how can you begin to explain a painting based on the notion of say – Whakairo, if you have no understanding of the traditional fundamentals. To know the 'traditional' (for lack of a better word) is to enable yourself to contrast the contemporary against it. This enables you to stand behind your work 100%, and know precisely what sets it apart from what it was inspired by. However, I do acknowledge the fact that it is not documented what type of research she undertook.

    I do think the collection is fabulous, and wish her the best with her future. No doubt she has one that will be radiant and highly contributory on the global scene. Ka mau te wehi girl.

  2. I think we miss the point – it is not suppose to be a representation or interpretation of Maori design but used more as an inspiration to launch her designs – using the silhouette – maybe the textures and natural colours to interpret what she sees – people take artistic license to create original pieces – when we look at contemporary Maori art – do we chain ourselves to tradition and only allow a particular style to be allowed? or do we appreciate their interpretation and allow art to evolve and grow creating a richer body of work?

  3. Le Chic Batik, thanks for taking the time to write. Yeah, that actually seems to be the consensus 🙂 – just a little protective of that which we love. Mauri Ora!

  4. i don't think there is anything authentically maori about this collection, however, i think it is well-worked and attractive. i appreciate what you're saying about appropriation here – thanks for the dialogue.

  5. Sup B – I guess one issue is that people read her interpretation of Maori motifs and see it as fact when it doesn't truly represent Maori concepts, i.e. as Hoani says too simplistic. Fashionistas who tend to be highly influenced by each other (LOL) in turn re-interpret Madsen's work passing on further (mis)interpretations…

    What I like most about the process is that it led us to Amokura's brilliant article with those guidelines.

    Funny also, we saw that one of Potaua's bro was the Haka adviser on that Clint Eastwood movie Invictus with Morgan Freeman and ol fulla Good Will Hunting movie about Nelson Mandela. Sweet to see that creators are taking the time to get korero from experts in their respective fields. Also knew one of the Taiaha advisers in the 1st Star Wars movie. So it does happen.

    It wouldn't take too long to talk to a few heads to get some better understandings. This piece is arguing that Madsen's work would be better informed if she had talked to more peeps clued into what she's doing.

  6. Brilliant concept…she can draw I'll admit it. Her understanding of things like mania and ta moko is too simple. You know she should of come to NZ to do it. At least that way she could of got the indigenous explaination

  7. Love your final analysis of this, frankly though looking at her pictures I can't see anything Maori about them??

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