Despite the continued progress made by Māori designers, New Zealand design culture is still largely homogeneous” reports Eye On Design’s Margaret Andersen before introducing us to the marvelous world of Johnson Witehira, a graphic designer and typographer “motivated to use his design practice to ‘actually change the visual landscape of New Zealand, and to create one that’s bicultural, rather than monocultural’”.
An artist and designer of Tamahaki (Ngāti Hinekura), Ngā Puhi (Ngai-tū-te-auru), Ngāti Haua and New Zealand European descent Johnson Witehira 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 most attempts at Maori typeface design, designers have chosen to digitally revive painted and carved Maori type, or they have simply transposed Maori forms, such as the koru, onto alphabet characters. In contrast to these approaches, Whakarare is built from the ground up with the focus being on the creation of wholly new forms” writes Witehira on his Whakarare typeface.
“Thus, while referencing Maori aesthetics and studies of Maori typographic preferences, each letter was created from hand-drawn originals. Maori typographic preferences seen in Whakarare include the use of high contrast between strokes, an emphasis on the vertical stress, and the use of an irregularly high x-height. The use of macrons to indicate long-vowels was also an important aspect of the typeface” he adds.
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