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A Māori dragon story



Lisa Reihana

New Zealand

1964 -


Made in the early years of Lisa Reihana’s career, A Māori dragon story is marked by a decidedly homespun, low-fi, experimental quality. Riffing off the work of Czech filmmaker and puppeteer Jan Švankmajer as well as animators Brothers Quay, her stop-motion animation, complete with carved wooden puppets and handmade props, is a dark cinematic reimagining of a form usually reserved for children’s entertainment. The work is void of dialogue, with Reihana communicating the dramatic and emotional inflections of her storytelling through imagery and sound alone.

The work reflects how Reihana has long drawn upon Māori knowledge, histories and customs and sought to re-present these through video, installation and photography within a contemporary context – placing them in our digital world. During the 1990s and early 2000s, Reihana was part of a series of seminal exhibitions in New Zealand that carved out a space in the visual arts for an expanded representation of Māori identity and expression. Ever since, she has claimed digital technologies and virtual space as one where innovation meets tradition. As Reihana remarks, “I seized upon twenty-first century technologies because they sit outside traditional rules, the photographic process came from there, it replaces the wood and I use the computer as my carving tool.”

More linear in its narrative than many of Reihana’s works, A Māori dragon story traverses themes of love, jealousy, revenge and death. As described by curator Jose da Silva in his essay for Cinemania: “In A Māori dragon story, Te Ake of Akaroa and his beautiful daughter Hine Ao encounter Chief Tūrakipō of Ōpawāho, whose shell eyes spin with desire for her. When Hine Ao rejects his advances, an angered Tūrakipō calls on his powers as a tohunga (priestly expert) to cast a curse access the blue cellophane waves, causing Hine Ao to perish at sea. While mourners gather, Te Ake learns the art of makutu (black magic) to avenge her death. He casts his karakia (incantation) and awakens a giant taniwha with Hine Ao’s head, guiding it through the seas toward the Ōpawāho fishermen. Tūrakipō’s people flock to eat the captured taniwha, and in a break from the narrative structure and animation style, we witness human hands cleaning and gutting fish and mouths gorging at their raw flesh.” The film ends with Tūrakipō waking to find that all of his people have died.




Media category

Time-based art

Materials used

16mm animation transferred to single channel digital video, colour, sound




duration: 00:15:00 min, aspect ratio: 4:3


Purchased with funds provided by the Friends of New Zealand Art 2020


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Lisa Reihana

Works in the collection