Excerpt from feature article by Peter Skinner for Rangefinder Magazine, USA
“Photographers who are able to draw inspiration and strength from their cultural heritage, and who have the talent to infuse their images with the style, character and lore of that ancestry, are indeed fortunate. Such is the case with Tania Niwa, a native of New Zealand now based in Sydney, Australia, who is one of the shining stars of contemporary photography. Not only has she established herself within the top echelon of Australian photographers in her field, she has also greatly impressed her North American contemporaries with powerful, earthy photographs that exude sensuality and incorporate a wonderful blend of documentary and slick design.”
Tania’s personal fine art photography began by incorporating her Maori tribal heritage in a self-assigned and ongoing series of tribal images. This personal work has truly been a labor of love, and while building and running a successful portrait business.
She continues to add to the wonderful collection she started in 1994. Her ancestral heritage has been a powerful influence in her life, both personally and professionally.
The Maori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand, have in recent years made great strides in nurturing and advancing their culture. Tania Niwa, who comes from the small town of Waitara (population 4000) in the Taranaki region of New Zealand’s North Island, was fortunate to be included among those people dedicated to keeping the Maori culture and traditions alive.
Tania embraced her heritage, and the Waitara Marae became the foundation for her growth. The Marae is the cultural and spiritual center of a Maori community, a place where the culture and traditions of the Maori people are maintained and passed on to younger generations. It is, in a sense, the font of Maori knowledge. See image pictured left.
Tania explains, “The Waitara Marae ‘Owae-whai-tara’ was, and still remains, a central focus and pride for my small hometown, and it gave me a sense of identity, a direct connection with my ancestors. The marae is strategically placed at one of the highest points in our town, overlooking the Waitara River, which the town was built on both sides of, and has a clear view of the river mouth and the Tasman Sea. The Marae sits before the majestic rise of Mt. Taranaki/Egmont, which belongs to all the tribes of Taranaki and is a very spiritual site for our people.”
From the very beginnings of her career as an artist and photographer, she has capitalised on, and been eternally grateful for, being born into a proud and traditional culture that has become the foundation for her personal and professional aspirations. Deep down, she knows she can play her part in paying tribute to, and advancing, that Maori heritage through her groundbreaking photography.
Pictured top left: The portrait of the MAORI WARRIOR in a suit with full facial moko (tattoo) is Tania’s Grandmother’s oldest brother Te Porikapa who was a warrior scout for Pacifist Taranaki Tribal Leader, Te Whiti O Rongo Mai (mid to late 1800?s). Te Porikapa’s Grandson was named Aniwaniwa from which Tania’s family surname ‘Niwa’ originates. ‘Aniwaniwa’ translates into ‘Child of the Mist’ or ‘Rainbow’.
Pictured Middle left: The traditional Maori Meeting House is Owae Marae, which sits before the majestic Mount Taranaki. Growing up next to the Marae was a constant source of inspiration for Tania. “Our art teacher would take us there to draw the detail of the carvings. It was very fitting that one of my very first experiments in creating my own photographic style, was taken at the Marae in about 1992,” Tania said. See Tania’s Fine Art Portfolio to see if you can spot this image (the image shows a young woman with her eyes closed in front of a carving, with symbolic NZ dried ferns in the foreground).
Pictured Bottom Left: Tania Niwa is pictured here. You will see she has a Maori tribal moko (tattoo) on her arm which reflects her Taranaki and Te Atiawa tribal affiliation. In historical times, women usually wore moko on their lips and chin. The moko was a form of identity before the written language was introduced by European Settlers to New Zealand and was also reflective of status and rank.