Artist translates Māori designs using digital technology
A Bay of Plenty artist is merging traditional Māori designs with cutting-edge technology to create new ‘digital
treasures’, which are on display to the Bay of Plenty public at the Art of Technology exhibition in Tauranga until 5
Joe Te Wharau is an artist of Ngāti Maru (Hauraki) descent. He is based in Pukehina in the Bay of Plenty, and works with
modern technology such as 3D printing to create original taonga. His exhibition features a series of artistic pendants
inspired by tradition, titled ‘Matihiko Taonga V1.0’ (Digital Treasures V1.0).
Joe’s work includes artwork and jewellery created using a wide range of materials, including gold, platinum, silver,
brass, copper and a range of advanced plastics. Accurate to a fraction of a millimetre and produced with the same
technology used to make spaceships and build robots, these precision-engineered pieces explore Māori artistic concepts
using cutting edge design and manufacturing technologies.
“Māori communication is visual and spoken. These pieces are a translation of Māori tradition through modern technology,
and I think it’s a natural progression,” he says.
“The subjects I work with have been chosen for their meaning. The tiki resembles creation and the fertility that comes
from new ideas. I chose the toki [adze] as a symbol for tools – for exploring new ideas and techniques to make and do
Joe’s nylon tiki are 3D-printed and finished in a rich coloured dye, then detailed with ink tā moko inscribed by hand
into the engraved inlays. Each nylon tiki is embedded with a programmable microchip that can be used to store
information, or to interact with NFC-enabled mobile devices in a variety of ways, using a range of custom programs.
Other tiki designs are 3D printed and inlaid with brass or bronze, while toki are printed in precious metals. They
possess a talismanic quality that fits the name taonga well, he says.
As part of the exhibition, he also provided a talk titled ‘Discovering 3D-printed Taonga’ on 20 October, exploring the
inspiration behind his work and introducing 3D printing to others.
In addition to connecting cultures and communities artistically using digital technology, Joe Te Wharau is literally
working to reconnect communities as site manager of a road production crew. After his presentation, he returned to his
role with Downer Group moving mountains and reconnecting communities in the State Highway 1 rebuild following the 7.8
magnitude Kaikoura earthquake of November 2016.
“Coming from a background and training in industrial design I was exposed to a lot of techniques. But the subject matter
was always so impersonal. I retrained to drive a digger so I could do something hands-on, and this is funding my
“I have always wanted to make beautiful things that meant something to me personally. Objects to be treasured, to
inspire people to view things in new ways. Now I have found a way to do it.”
The two-yearly Art of Technology exhibition focuses on art that would not exist without technology, featuring artists
from across New Zealand as well as Europe and the USA. Further information on the Matihiko Taonga V1.0
project is available atwww.tewharau.com