I went to the New Zealand Body Art Festival in February, but since I was busy enjoying New Zealand’s summer I didn’t get around to sorting the pictures until now. The pictures are so amazing I had to share them.
The best time to go to the Festival is during the competition. I had thought that the whole festival would have people running around in full body paint, but actually the artist and models are all hiding in the back being painted all day, so many of the models aren’t seen until they appear on stage for the competition.
We were lucky to be here for the 2010 festival since the theme was Maori Legends and Myths. What better way to learn about New Zealand’s native people’s culture than through a staged production with such exciting visual elements.
Maori Lengend of Kurangaituku, the Bird Woman
The most compelling story I heard was of the Bird-woman, known as Kurangaituku. The bird woman was portrayed as a ruthless monster with long fingernails and a thirst for blood, but I saw her as a kind woman who was taken advantage of by an evil hunter. The story starts when the hunter and Kurangairuku spear the same pigeon. The bird woman had never seen a human before and took him home with her to be her most prized pet. The man should be thankful as he had just been cast out of his village and was on his own. The bird woman allowed him free reign of her home and gave him the best parts of the birds to eat.
He was disgusted by Kurangaituku because she ate her food raw. He never tried to explain to her that he needed his meat cooked and just pretended to dine with her. He would cook the food after she left to go hunting each day. The man had everything he could desire a safe home and dinner delivered every night, but he wasn’t satisfied. He looked at the bird woman’s nice things and beautiful treasure and decided he would have them for himself.
He tricked Kurangaituku into hunting very far away by telling her stories of a beautiful place high in the mountains with the most delicious birds. As soon as she left he began killing all of her loyal pets and stealing her valuables. As he went around slaughtering all of the animals who lived in her home, one small bush bird escaped and flew to Kurangaituku to warn her and try to save the rest of the animals. Unfortunately the bird woman arrived home too late. Every one of her precious pets were dead and all of the treasures she collected over the years were missing.
Kurangaituku was furious and immediately went looking for the hunter who betrayed her. Since she was taller than the trees and fast as a bird she was able to spot and catch up with the hunter in Rotorura. He spied her just as she was about to squash him, so he did a little chant and was absorbed into a rock. The bird woman was so angry she smashed the rock creating a crater so deep it reached the molten lava in the center of the earth. The hunter jumped into another rock and Kurangaituku smashed that one in the same manner. This went on and on until it began to rain filling the holes and creating pockets of boiling water.
The hunter was smart and doubled back to where the newly formed bubbling pits surrounded the cool waters of Lake Rotorura. He pushed a large boulder into a boiling pit and sneakily jumped into the lake at the same time. Kurangaituku thought he had hidden in the boulder so she went to stomp on it, but fell into the boiling pit. Her feathers were weighed down by the thick boiling mud in the pit and she couldn’t climb out. She was boiled to death and the hunter was free to take all of her treasures to his own village to buy his way back into favor.
There were other maori legends told during the catwalk, but the bird women stood out and was easily remembered because there were a couple bird women so I heard the story more than once.
The Body Art Competition
Each model would appear on stage and the announcer would provide the artist description of the model and some details about the legend their model represented. The more experienced artist made a performance of the story and the model would strut or dance down the catwalk acting out the legend as music played or a story was told in the background.
There are several different categories for the competition from novice & expert to speed painting and everyone is welcome to enter. The week prior to the competition free workshops are given to teach you how to paint, use prosthetics, attach feathers and anything else related to body art. There is also a need for models, so if you enjoy the limelight volunteer to be painted for the day! Prizes include everything from gift bags of local treats to free art classes and cash! There was even a surprise prize for the best performing model.
Try getting to the competition early so you can get a good seat and have dinner as you watch the show. There is a refreshment tent nearby and a painted waitress will serve you beer, wine and tapas.
The New Zealand Body Art Festival was a unique experience and I highly recommend it to everyone. I believe there is one in Auckland in October of 2010, so if you are around, check it out. The detail of the body art in Taupo far exceeds anything I’ve seen before; the street performers in Barcelona and New Orleans, the silly girls in Key West, and the exotic dancers during carnaval in Gualeguaychu, Argentina.