Whakapapa: The Ancestors in front, We are behind

Kirsten Garner Lyttle

This artwork takes its title from a Māori expression;

“Ngā tīpuna ki mua,
Ko tatou kei muri.”

The ancestors in front,
We are behind.

This expression shows clearly how Māori, and many other indigenous knowledge systems, view time differently. Rather than being linear, time is more like a spiral, it is three-dimensional. Ancestors can be in the present, in the past and in the future -simultaneously. Time is more like a wormhole than a linear structure. Borrowing from the visual language of science fiction, this artwork explores the idea that technology can be indigenised or Māorified.

As with all mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), the starting place is the whakapapa (the genealogy). The map of the relationships between all beings and all things. More than simply a family tree, whakapapa is a line of descent from ancestors (and deities) down to the present day, linking all people and things back to the origins of creation. From a Māori perspective, it is this unbroken line which gives mana and value.

Starting with Te Pō (night, darkness), this projection visually explores the whakapapa (ancestral line) of imaging. It maps the relationship from carving, then photography and digital art. Showing the unbroken line of descent from ancestors (and deities) to the present day. Illustrating that technology can be “Māorified”; that the tools of new media can enhance, revisit and re-present the methods and materials of customary indigenous art-making.

Dr Kirsten Garner Lyttle (artist)
James Garner Lyttle (editor & animator)

Whakapapa: The Ancestors in front, We are behind
Kirsten Garner Lyttle

Dr Kirsten Garner Lyttle a Melbourne based artist, academic and researcher who is of Māori descent. Her Iwi (tribe) is Waikato, (Ngāti Tahinga, Tainui A Whiro). Her work explores the intersection of indigenous customary art practice and digital technologies.

Lyttle was awarded her PhD in 2020 and currently teaches Critical and Theoretical Studies, Victorian College of the Arts, The University of Melbourne.

Listen, See, Explore

Whakapapa: The Ancestors in front, We are behindKirsten Garner Lyttle
00:00 / 03:05