“As an artist and designer my goal is to bring Māori visual culture back into the lives of Maori”
Johnson Witehira is an artist and designer of Tamahaki (Ngāti Hinekura), Ngā Puhi (Ngai-tū-te-auru), Ngāti Haua and New Zealand European descent. He graduated from the Whanganui School of Design in 2004, going on to complete his Masters in 2007. His interest in Māori art and design led him to Te Pūtahi-a-Toi (School of Maori Studies, Massey University) where he completed his doctorate in Māori design. In his research, Tārai Kōrero Toi: Articulating a Māori Design Language, Witehira developed a platform for contemporary Māori design practice through the exploration of traditional carving.
Witehira’s work has a strong aesthetic that comes from combining traditional Maori form and pattern with ideas from graphic design and contemporary Western arts practice. Through his numerous projects he looks to develop indigenous and Maori design in the areas of typography, graphic, product, packaging and fashion design. He has also been involved in the development of Māori design education through teaching and the development of new Maori-centred design programmes.
In 2012 Witehira’s work was exhibited in Times Square, New York in the first ever syncronised display of digital content. During this digital exhibition Witehira’s designs were shown simultaneously on 34 billboards across a period of three days. In his Land of Tara (2014, Wellington, Courteny Place) series Witehira worked closely with Wellingotn City council and local mana whenua to create a series of graphic representations of the capital city’s ancestors including Kupe, Whatonga, and his sons Tautoki and Tara. Following the success of this he was invited by the council to undertake the Waituhi project. This involved the creation of a 20 x 5 metre mural depicting the themes of matariki, kaitiakitanga and the significance of the site. Since his move to Auckland, Witehira has been quick to become involved in the local art and design scene. In 2014 he was selected to create works for the Matariki and Art in the Dark festivals.