Aboriginal artist's deep connections to te ao Māori

By Waimanea Nuri

By Waimanea Nuri, Te Rito journalism cadet.

Allan McKenzie is an Aboriginal artist who is deeply connected to his culture and is inspired to create art based on Māori values.

His work is displayed on murals, vehicles and footwear and he has recently moved his focus from canvas painting to coffin painting, with his primary inspiration coming from Māori and Aboriginal cultures.

He says the respect Māori and Aboriginal people have for their ancestors, traditions, and heritage motivates him to consistently mix both cultures into his art.

“I've witnessed a lot of amazing things inside the culture in New Zealand, especially how Māori mourn, celebrate and respect their loved ones with pride, the exact same way we do for people who go to the dream time,” McKenzie says.

McKenzie says painting coffins is his way of helping bereaved families, by expressing the significance of the deceased and their relationship to their homelands.

He says it is all about incorporating family wishes by allowing them to leave handprints on the casket to commemorate, connect, and give them the feeling that they will always be with them.

“One of my best mate’s son passed away and the only thing that I could do at that moment was to paint his casket.

Shifting from canvas to coffins to showcase indigenous art.

“He had only known for two minutes and asked straight away, so without hesitation I agreed and said ‘yeah I'll do it brother, for you’.”

He says that his ability to surround caskets with artworks that demonstrate his ancestors' connection from this world to the next has reached others in Australia, and has since decorated two caskets.

“I can confidently say I've got a barrage of emails from people wanting me to paint caskets for their loved ones. I can't do it right at the moment but it's something that I want to look at doing in the future.”

He has been painting for over 28 years and posts many of his works on social media, gathering a following of 112k, with the objective of inspiring other aspiring artists to express themselves through their work too.

“For me, it's all about the pride that I take in creating pieces of artwork that come from inside my spirit and that is the importance of my work.”