Maori Collection at Te Papa (New Zealand's National Museum in Wellington)

What does it mean to be an artist in the modern world? What does it take to develop your craft? What does it take to earn a living from your art? My special guest on Voices from the North, Duncan Kapa, is a master wood carver in the Maori (whakairo) tradition, although he’s reluctant to use the term, ‘master’.

This interview is touching. Duncan’s journey is one of the heart. At seventeen he walked away from the dreams his family had for him to follow his own. He faced ridicule and criticism. But he had no choice if he was to be true to himself. Now, after something like thirty years of practising his craft he’s earned the respect of his peers and of the public (and, I suspect, of his family). He is a humble man and an inspiring one.

He speaks with gratitude of the financial support he received from the New Zealand government that allowed him to study with master workers of wood in Australia, Bali, the U.K and Europe. He has dedicated his life to carving and he’s doing the one thing every ‘master’ artisan has said you must do once you’ve gained the requisite experience and prowess in your craft. He’s ‘passing it on.’

In pre-European days carvers were some of the very few people who could freely and safely navigate between iwi (tribes) at war. Such was the respect afforded them.

For ten years Duncan has lived in Wellington. He considers New Zealand’s capital to be a Mecca for the arts. ‘Artisans need to be in a sharing artistic environment,’ says Duncan Kapa. ‘Artists feed off each other.’ I suspect they understand each other as well, and that goes a long way in world in which there is rarely a regular pay check. It’s often feast or famine, although Duncan hopes the days of famine are behind him now.

Do listen to this interview and be inspired to follow your dreams, at whatever cost. Remember, when the day of reckoning approaches, people rarely regret what they’ve done, rather what they wished they’d done. Follow your dreams, as Duncan Kapa has done. Deep satisfaction is the reward. Our music for the show is Whirimako Black singing, “What a Difference a Day Makes.”

The complete interview can be heard here:

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