22 May 2017

Taonga to go on display in Paris

7:12 am on 22 May 2017

More than 200 pieces of New Zealand pounamu, including a 170kg boulder, will go on display in Paris today.

The Sacred Stone of the Māori exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly will be opened at dawn.

The exhibition at the  Musée du Quai Branly will run until October.

The Sacred Stone of the Māori exhibition will run at the Musée du Quai Branly until October. Photo: AFP

The call of a kaikaranga from Ngāi Tahu will signify the opening of an exhibition showcasing a taonga close to the hearts of Māori.

Ngāi Tahu spokesperson Lisa Tumahai said it was raising awareness of Māori culture.

She said that throughout Māori history pounamu had been regarded as a taonga and many shared a strong spiritual connection with the stone.

The display includes 20 mere, which are Māori weapons, and four large pounamu that can be touched - including one greenstone that's 170kg.

The museum curator, Nicolas Garnier, said the pounamu would get huge exposure in a cosmopolitan city like Paris and he was sure people would get a feel for the taonga.

"The space has been designed, the lighting as it is today is extremely clever, and you have a kind of peacefulness that invites visitors ... to respect and to meditation."

Mr Garnier said there was a growing appreciation for Pacific art in France.

"If there is one kind of iconic artefact from the Pacific it's probably the heitiki, so many people around probably don't know much about Māori culture but if they know one thing it's probably the heitiki."

The exhibition also displays photos of the South Island and other places where the stones came from - some of them are 800 years old.

Dougal Austin, Te Papa curator in Matauranga Maori, said he was proud to see them displayed overseas.

"This is my first visit to Paris, and I'm just blown away really about how beautiful it is. But also they really live their culture over here and they do appreciate beauty and art everywhere you look. And I think they'll appreciate our taonga as well."

The taonga have spent the past year touring China.

The exhibition will run until October.