Jonathan Mane-Wheoki – artist, scholar, critic, historian, battler for humanities

Tāne raising the sky, from Cliff Whiting's carving 'Te wehenga o Rangi rāua ko Papa' (click for image credit)

Tāne raising the sky, from Cliff Whiting's carving 'Te wehenga o Rangi rāua ko Papa' (click for image credit)

Tērā te uira e hiko ana mai,
Ka wāhi rua i runga o Rakaumangamanga
Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne

Te Ara today mourns the loss of Jonathan Mane-Wheoki. Jonathan was one of our finest contributors, who wrote Te Ara’s entry on Contemporary Māori art – ngā toi hōu. His essay says much about the man: it is a beautifully written piece which Jonathan completed about six months ago as he battled ill health – but he was determined to get it done. With elegant and polite emails he kept me fully informed of his progress, and when the entry arrived it hardly needed to be touched.

And the story that he tells was close to his own interests and passions. He had first studied as a painter under the radical expressionist Rudolf Gopas and was among the artists represented at the pioneering Canterbury Museum exhibition in 1966: ‘Maori culture and the contemporary scene’. He recounts how Māori artists were able to combine modernist aesthetics and Māori traditions into work that has been among the nation’s most creative of the past 50 years. Just think of some of the names – Ralph Hotere, Cliff Whiting, Para Matchitt, Emare Karaka, Robyn KahukiwaMichael Parekowhai and Shane Cotton. Truly Aotearoa would be hugely poorer without such work enriching our world. Jonathan was one of the great supporters, documenters and interpreters of this movement, and we are delighted he felt able to tell that story for Te Ara.

Jonathan’s championing of Māori art is not his only contribution to New Zealand’s culture. I first came across him when he was a young lecturer at Canterbury University who was researching architectural history, especially the Gothic revival. He recently made clear his desire that one of this country’s major expressions of that tradition, the Christchurch Cathedral should, if possible, be restored. His interest in architecture flowed through into his study of Māori history – I recall his beautifully paced presentation to the last New Zealand historians conference on the extraordinary history of the Mataatua wharenui.

After Canterbury University, Jonathan moved to Te Papa, where he directed the art team, and then went on to the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland. Along the way he battled fearlessly for research in humanities, helping to get the humanities included within the Royal Society and, in turn, he was recognised by that august body with the Pou Aronui Award in 2012 for his ‘outstanding contribution in the development of the humanities in Aotearoa New Zealand’.

Finally, I recall a man who was always warm and generous towards his peers, who was extraordinarily thoughtful of others, and was a complete gentleman (in the very best sense) in his behaviour. I did not know him well, but I always felt as if he personally really cared about my welfare.

So, Jonathan, rest easy. We will raise a glass in your memory and in gratitude for what you did to bring cultural history to life.

2 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Elizabeth Hartrick || October 16th, 2014

    Deeply saddened to read that Jonathan Mane-Wheoki has died. As an Hons student at Canterbury in the 1990s, I studied Maori Taonga under his guidance, hands on research on a waka huia from Canterbury Museum, an “immersion” Maori experience of Christchurch, and hassled him for not giving back our essays on time! Arohanui Haere ra Jonathan.

  2. Comment made by Elizabeth Hartrick || October 16th, 2014

    And very sad to read that Les Cleveland too died early this year. I met him in the late 1990s researching lantern slides, he was so knowledgeable, generous and helpful, sharing some gems from his collection with me.

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