Photographic Exhibition Celebrating Revival of Maori Art Form of Moko Kauae

Opening night video for ‘Pukauae’ Exhibition at Puke Ariki Museum. The exhibition features 17 Wahine with the moko kauae.
Photography commission by Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki.
Message from Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki:

Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki is celebrating its 30 year anniversary in a positive, creative and unique way by celebrating the many hands, faces and ngakau that have supported this tupuna (ancestors) kaupapa (purpose/initiative).
Our aim was to use the medium of photography to capture and tell our stories for our own whanau Maori to reflect on and for other indigenous women across the world to consider.
We are highlighting Maori women’s regeneration of the art of pukauae as a healing and traditional ritual practice to enhance mana wahine and to strengthen our identity within Aotearoa.

Pukauae Exhibition Photographic Artist: Tania NiwaGrand Master of Photography AIPP | Fellow II NZIPP


Here is an insight into how I came to be involved and my experience with this phenomenal project.
“Christmas time four years ago, I was with my dad down at the Waitara River Mouth and had the most fortuitous reconnection, after 30 years, with Dr Leonie Pihama. Leonie’s baby sister Judy was one of my best friends at Waitara High School. Whilst beside the river, Leonie mentioned the vision she and Ngaropi Raumati had in wanting to capture and compile the stories of Taranaki women around moko kauae and the resurgence of this cultural practice.
Four years later, here we are. To be selected by Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki to participate in this project has been an amazing gift and one of the most incredibly enriching and fulfilling experiences both personally and professionally.

So many factors have contributed to the Pukauae project. Having had four years to visualise ideas around how I could execute these images, it wasn’t until after capturing the first three wahine, that a style emerged. The vision for Pukauae was to tell a story of a person’s connections, achievements, responsibilities and status. The moko kauae is a physical manifestation of identity. The hope of Tu Tama Wahine was to create a moment of cultural pride and inspiration for Maori and all New Zealanders.

Five years earlier my mentor, international Maori artist Darcy Nicholas had suggested that I capture portraits of my whanau and the Maunga, with a style of lighting that hasn’t been seen before. It became evident that this project was where I’d learn how to execute what my mentor had envisioned and I had dreamed about.

This epic assignment has been the ultimate challenge both technically and creatively. To capture each wahine in this new way, meant expanding my skillset, investing in and experimenting with portable outdoor studio lighting. The use of this powerful photographic lighting allowed me to illuminate each wahine within the setting whilst also showing her as being a part of it.


You will see a strong emphasis on the background scene in each artwork as an inseparable part of the subject. This equal emphasis on the background to the subject helps communicate connection to, and the healing power of the land.


It was an absolute joy to learn of each woman’s unique gifts, talents, values, whanaunga and tupuna. These insights helped me gain an understanding of the historical importance of each woman’s decision to be captured in a specific place.
During this assignment, it became very clear that there were other processes going on around us, like places of significance revealing themselves to us, to feature in some of the artworks.

It takes courage to trust in wairua and when we do, things happen at the right time, in the right space and in the right place. I learnt from different wahine to ‘trust in the process’ and that when the time was right, things would align to make a particular portrait possible.
It has been my privilege to shine a light on each wahine, capturing portraits that will become legacy pieces for each of their whanau. The Pukauae collection has been designed to celebrate the revitalisation of moko kauae as a traditional art form and the resurgence of our cultural practice, reflecting our human and environmental interdepence, wahine and land are intimately connected. “
EXCERPT from EXHIBITION BOOKLET from Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki:
Pukauae Exhibition Photographic Artist:
Tania NiwaGrand Master of Photography AIPP | Fellow II NZIPP
(Taranaki and Te Atiawa) Parents, Raewynne and John ‘Hone’ Niwa
“My photography is all about connecting, capturing and reflecting upon the essence, character and soul of people, their families, environment and culture.“
Photographic artist Tania Niwa draws inspiration and strength from her Maori cultural heritage. In her early career in 1994, whilst still living in Taranaki, she created a ‘tribal’ series of indigenous portraits where she was able to infuse her images with the style and character of her Maori ancestry. Owae Marae, Waitara and Mounga Taranaki featured as central sources of inspiration for her artworks. Fast forward 25 years, and these iconic Taranaki treasures continue to evoke an abundance of awe-inspiring energy for the Taranaki born contemporary artist.
Tania is as an artist who, through portraiture, captures the environment and the cultural spirit seen behind the subjects of her portraits. She is highly respected in both Aotearoa, Australia and amongst the senior leadership of Contemporary Maori artists. Photography has been her passion from early school days after which she migrated to Australia and set an enviable reputation with many international photographic awards.
Tania is Australia’s youngest female Grand Master of Photography with the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) as well as a Licentiate. In her early career, she was also one of the youngest to achieve Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP).
In 2015, when ‘the call of Taranaki’ became too strong, with great support and advise Tania changed her business model and returned home to Waitara, opening a studio nearby in New Plymouth, the city in which she was born and where her professional career began. Tania shares her time between New Plymouth and Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Artworks Medium: CHROMALUXE HD Metal Prints
Camera: Canon EOS 5Ds 50.6 Megapixel
This Project has been enabled through funding support from Taranaki Lottery Grants Board.

Special thanks to:
Awhina Cameron – CEO Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki, Ngaropi Cameron – foundation member and Director of Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki, Dr Leonie Pihama
CHROMALUXE, Matt Carter – CartersNZ, Toby Warne – Sales manager Asia Pacific, Cory Marshall – print to metal
Canon CPS Australia, Selena Simpson (post production expert)
Canon New Zealand Genevieve Senekel
Puke Ariki Museum Colleen Mullins – Director, Gary Collins – Exhibitions Lead

Contact: Tania Niwa Photographer New Zealand + 64 27 599 7556 | Australia +61 41 9997556 [email protected]
For enquiries about the Pukauae exhibition contact: Tu Tama Wahine o Taranaki

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