Kulimoe’anga Stone Maka

Artist, Kulimoe’anga Stone Maka was born 1970 in Patangata, Tonga . He has won numerous awards and was the 2009 McMillan Brown artist in Residence. His work is held in public and private collections, including Te Papa Tongarewa.


Maka uses a technique of ‘smoking’ or black paraffin lamp smoke, which becomes a medium to stain the black and white hues onto the canvas. It is this technique that and subject matter that brought Maka’s work to the attention of the prestigious International Sydney Biennale of Art where he exhibited two works in March 2020.


However, his most recent work involves an unusual collaboration - a spider Maka has called John. Maka uses the intricate lines and webs the cobwebs form on the paper.  Says Maka,"I was brought up to use whatever there was to work with and that is still in me now." Whatever Maka does, it is the deep connection to Tonga, his family and his traditional culture that occupies is art practice.


In 1997, Tongan born New Zealand artist, Kulimoe'anga ‘Stone’ Maka, left Tonga at the age of 26, to continue his art practice in New Zealand. Since the age of five years old, Maka was compelled to draw, but being in a family of 12 in Tonga, his canvas was the beach, which washed away his work each day. After seeing Maka’s frustrations, his Father sewed the inside of cement bags together to make Maka his first sketch book. His subject matter was lines and form making. "I would draw in the sand because we could not afford anything. I would run half-naked to the beach and sit there drawing, weird things... lines, a lot of lines. I am interested in form," says Maka


After working as a teacher in Tonga, Maka began to realise that in order to develop as an artist, he had to find out more about this way of life that he felt dedicated to. With nor portfolio or drawings to show, Maka became accepted just through drawing onto a piece of paper at an interview at Whitecliffe School in Auckland New Zealand. Later, he completed a Visual Arts Degree at the Manukau School of Art in Auckland. During this time, Maka studied contemporary art and began to form his individual style, using abstract contemporary influences, but still being very firmly rooted in the traditions of Tongan art, and in particular the sacred art of ‘ngatu ta’uli, or black tapa cloth.     


Traditionally used for royalty in Tonga, black tapa cloth is Ngatu ta’uli is considered the highest ranking bark cloth in Tonga and is traditionally made for Tongan royalty. This style of ngatu is distinctive for the black dye that covers the surface of the tapa cloth. This ngatu ta’uli has a band of red dye in the centre and a small red circle on one corner. The fo'i hea motif is  comprised of three black dots, which are repeated three times along one end of the tapa cloth. Believing abstract art in the Pacific to be one of the most expressive and pure forms of art-making, Stone’s paintings draw attention to the formalism and abstraction inherent to art from the region since the 18th century. Maka’s work typically represents his social, political and spiritual beliefs.


Contemporary New Zealand Art, has always been very influenced by western art and the impact of colonialism on our shores. However, throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Maori Art has resurged and has been recognised as intrinsic to the stories we tell ourselves within contemporary art. Maori are ‘tanagata whenua’ (the indigenous keepers and protectors of our land) and maori art and artists are now being noticed as being very important to New Zealand contemporary art practice. Similarly, as New Zealanders begin to identify with ‘home’ as being an island in the pacific, (rather than somehow attached to England), so too, the art of The Pacific, is becoming yet another important influence in our contemporary art conversation.