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Imagined Cosmopolis

Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870s–1920s


Edited By Charlotte Ashby, Grace Brockington, Daniel Laqua and Sarah Victoria Turner

The period from the 1870s to the 1920s was marked by an interplay between nationalisms and internationalisms, culminating in the First World War, on the one hand, and the creation of the League of Nations, on the other. The arts were central to this debate, contributing both to the creation of national traditions and to the emergence of ideas, objects and networks that forged connections between nations or that enabled internationalists to imagine a different world order altogether. The essays presented here explore the ways in which the arts operated internationally during this crucial period of nation-making, and how they helped to challenge national conceptions of citizenship, society, homeland and native tongue. The collection arises from the AHRC-funded research network Internationalism and Cultural Exchange, 1870–1920 (ICE; 2009–2014) and its enquiry into the histories of cultural internationalism and their historiographical implications.

This collection has been edited by members of the ICE network convened by Grace Brockington and Sarah Victoria Turner.

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17. Translations: Maori Art Nationalized in Settler-Colonial New Zealand and Internationalized in European Art and Theory (Leonard Bell)


← 378 | 379 →


17   Translations: Maori Art Nationalized in Settler-Colonial New Zealand and Internationalized in European Art and Theory

In 1910 the New Zealand Herald reported a ‘curious discovery’ made by Mme Boeufvre, wife of the French consul for New Zealand. After looking at the Book of Kells (c. 800) in Dublin, she ‘was much struck by the similarity of Celtic ornaments to Maori conventional designs […] how very closely the Maori patterns resembled those of the ancient artists of Ireland’.1 This was one of many parallels drawn between elements and motifs from Maori artefacts and practices and those in the art and ornament of various other societies, ancient to contemporary, such as Ancient Egyptian, Greek, South East Asian, Chinese and Arab, besides Celtic.2

This essay sketches a genealogy of thought among Europeans in which Maori artefacts were seen and rated primarily as art, whether fine or applied, that shared fundamental values and properties with aesthetically high-quality objects of other societies globally. This current of opinion and practice has been largely overlooked, perhaps because some of the protagonists are otherwise little-known, supposedly minor figures. It is a broad field of concerns and socio-cultural interactions marked by a complex of affinities and differences. Deploying later twentieth-century so-called post-colonial theoretical formulations – colonialist appropriation theories, for instance – in an attempt to order the field does not necessarily get one very far. One needs to focus on how various European people responded ← 379 | 380 → to Maori...

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