Person of Interest: Noelle Jakeman

Date July 31, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


Noelle Jakeman is a ceramic artist from New Zealand of Maori tribal origins. She has been a teacher and a university lecturer, teaching mainstream Maori art and design, has worked as a curator, and as an event organizer initiating and producing concerts, conferences, festivals, exhibitions, and performances that have promoted and supported the Maori arts and culture. Jakeman's ceramic sculptures will be on view in an exhibition-Side Show-on Thursday and Friday, August 21-22, from 2 to 5 pm at the Glenn Green Galleries in Tesuque.

My Foundation

"€˜Whakapapa' refers to genealogy and lineage. "€˜Tangata Whenua' translates to "€˜People of the Land,' and is used in reference to the Indigenous peoples of the land. "€˜Papatuanuku' is the Maori name for Mother Earth. These are common Maori terms-each relates to the other and all refer back to the land/earth/clay. This is the foundation for all my work.

Maori Traditions Regarding Clay

When the Maori first settled in New Zealand, they began adapting to their new environment. With natural resources, abundant forests, foliage, and beaches, functional items such as tools and weaponry were fashioned. Because of these readily available resources, the development of fired ceramic and clayware was never pursued and clay was used more as paint for coloring purposes. More recently, Maori artists have recognized the significance of clay as a medium. During the 1980s, a small collective of potters-"Nga Kaihanga Uku"€-was formed. As well as creating ceramic artworks that expressed Maori issues, they explored ceramic's functional purpose in a Maori context. Sculptural forms that were usually carved in wood were being made in clay, and ceramic vessels were created for ceremonial purposes. Also included were unfired, dried clay containers-used to place items that were to be buried back into the earth. The "Nga Kaihanga Uku"€ group also networked with other Indigenous peoples who had a long history of pottery in their cultures. They visited the Hopi potters and were able to invite some of them back to New Zealand, which led to an invaluable exchange of knowledge, ideas, concepts, and hospitality between two very different, yet similar, cultures.


My family upbringing and life experiences are major influences in my work, so my clay sculptures are based on various characters that I am familiar with-the people I've met, seen, or knew of while growing up in a close-knit Maori community. In my work, I strive to portray emotions to express how we are as a people-happy, sad, angry, and proud. Most of my work contains specific Maori and New Zealand cultural references. However, I hope that people are also able to relate to and identify with some of the more universal characteristics, like that of the matriarchal figures.

My Relationship with Native American Artists

I've had the opportunity to work alongside and meet a number of Native American artists at various Indigenous art gatherings, exhibitions, and art residencies. I first met and worked with Navajo artist Melanie Yazzie at an Indigenous arts gathering in New Zealand more than ten years ago. She returned regularly to attend other gatherings and exchanges over the years. Being a student at the time, with a keen focus on ceramics and sculpture, I was interested in the Native American history of pottery and the sculptural works of some of the more contemporary Native American artists. Having visited and stayed with artists and families at different reservations and Native communities, I felt at home with the close-knit families, communities, and tribal environments so similar to my own Maori culture. As an Indigenous people we share a lot of similarities, including a history that has shaped our cultures. My artwork and the art-making process has allowed me to network, communicate, empathize, socialize, joke, cry, and laugh with many of the artists and people I have met on my travels.