Otago Polytechnic


Metiria Turei 

Historical and contemporary use of M¯aori visual art in the transmission of M¯aori legal knowledge

The description of Indigenous Peoples as having an ‘oral culture’ is simplistic, often used as shorthand to suggest that oral cultures are non-literate and therefore more primitive. That implication undervalues Indigenous peoples’ visual culture of documenting, recording, and creating social, legal, and political information through mark making and encoded objects. Where a culture uses its artistic system to create objects whose primary purpose is to communicate information across time and place, those objects can be said to be “encoded objects”. The form, shape, materiality, surface design and construction of the object can all contribute to the meaning it holds, as can the nature and status of its maker and the time and place of its making.

When thinking about the documentation of indigenous law and how indigenous law is communicated and taught, it seems obvious that objects and visual markings would be used for that purpose just as objects (such as law books) and visual markings (such as writing) is used to communicate state law. My thesis explores the legal literacy of M¯aori visual art and asks whether M¯aori law is documented in visual art works such as pou, ta moko and raranga.

image credit:  Pou Tangaroa, Kati Hui Rapa,  Alex Whitaker, Warrington Domain


Metiria Turei - ¯Ati Haunui a P¯ap¯arangi, Ng¯ati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitane.

Metiria Stanton Turei lives in Dunedin, Aotearoa. Metiria built a career as a social activist, lawyer and member of the New Zealand Parliament over 20 years before moving to develop her art practice. Her art work focuses on Indigenous Futurism, M¯aori self determination in the present and the future and is primarily in performative textiles, activated on the body and presented in film and photographs. She has a law degree from the University of Auckland and a BVA Honours from the Dunedin School of Art. She works for the University of Otago in the Faculty of Law. 

Published on 4 May 2021

Orderdate: 4 May 2021
Expiry: 4 May 2023