In a historic event, New Zealand’s Te Papa Tongarewa is hosting the first Ainu art exhibition, showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Ainu people—an indigenous community from northern Japan. Four distinguished Ainu artists—Akemi Shimada, Koji Yuki, Sayo Ogasawara, and Atsushi Monbetsu—were warmly welcomed with a traditional pōwhiri ceremony by the Māori at Te Papa Tongarewa. Celebrating Ainu-Māori Connections: First Ainu Art Exhibition Opens in New Zealand
The exhibition, named Ramat Kor Kur, is a contemporary art display that not only brings Ainu art to New Zealand but also commemorates a century-old connection between the Ainu and Māori. The Ainu delegation’s visit coincides with an important historical moment—100 years ago, Tāhupotiki Wiremu Rātana, the founder of Rātana, formed a friendship with Bishop Juji Nakata, who had Ainu heritage, during a world tour in Japan. This enduring connection has continued over the years, with Nakata visiting Aotearoa to open the Rātana Temple in 1927.
The relationship between Rātana and the Ainu has persisted, and Ainu elder Akemi Shimada, an award-winning textile artist based in Tokyo, expressed deep appreciation for the sacred and longstanding bond between her people and the Māori.
For Shimada, the inspiration drawn from Māori culture has been transformative. She highlighted the kindness of the Māori people, especially their compassion toward those who are suffering. Like many Ainu individuals, Shimada initially concealed her heritage due to fear of discrimination. However, a chance encounter with the Māori later inspired her to embrace her culture and share it with others.
Shimada, who serves as the chairperson of the Aotearoa Ainu Mosir Exchange program, emphasized the warmth she experienced during her visit to Rātana Pa, where the Rātana people welcomed Ainu visitors, affirming that it was also their place.
The Ainu-Māori connection deepened further through the Aotearoa Ainu Mosir Exchange program initiated in 2012. The exchange program allows Ainu youth to travel to Aotearoa, experiencing Māori kaupapa (initiatives) firsthand. The relationship was strengthened when Te Ururoa Flavell, then Māori Party MP, learned about the struggles of the Ainu in Japanese society and extended an invitation for an exchange program.
Akemi Shimada expressed her gratitude to the Māori people for playing a significant role in inspiring her Indigenous Ainu creative activism. The exhibition aims to showcase Ainu art and culture while expressing Shimada’s gratitude to the Māori community that has embraced and supported her.
This historic Ainu art exhibition serves as a testament to the enduring connections between indigenous communities and the power of cultural exchange in fostering understanding and appreciation.
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