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Mahiriki Tangaroa

Trained as a photographer, Tangaroa transitioned to painting in Rarotonga and found inspiration in the ancient and customary Cook Islands art and artifacts she researched at the National Museum such as the God of the Ocean, Tangaroa, the God of agriculture and war Rongo and the unnamed Aitutaki goddess. Tangaroa has been a catalyst for Rarotonga’s arts community, organizing multiple artist residencies and training workshops for established and aspiring artists.

Through her art, curating, and advocacy, Tangaroa challenges artists and audiences to consider the impacts of cultural imperialism: “The arrival of Christianity in the Cook Islands brought great changes in the arts.

The acceptability of decorating functional objects for ceremonial purposes managed to survive, but the making of figurative gods, tattooing, and tapa-making ceased almost completely. Elimination of these practices destroyed evidence of [Cook Islands] artistic history and is one of the main contributing factors to the absence of certain designs, symbols, and motifs in the art produced today.” These concerns fuel her artistic practice. By re-constructing customary symbols interspersed with tapa or pareu patterns, she draws attention to persistence of Cook Islands culture and the evolving nature of identity.