Sofia Minson - Maori Art Connecting With The World

Having grown up in Samoa, Aotearoa, Sri Lanka and China, artist Sofia Minson has seen extremes in terms of wealth and poverty and cultural and religious diversity. Regarding herself as a citizen of the world, the call of home, however, beckoned as Sofia sought a return to her Ngāti Porou roots and senses an awakening of indigenous wisdom globally. Sofia spoke to INNES LOGAN in the latest issue of SPASIFIK Magazine about her journey and growing business providing stunning original paintings, canvas and museum archival prints.



With two sisters 10 and 12 years older than her, Sofia Minson relies on her siblings to recall her youngest years.


“Dad was an engineer and was tasked with helping build and upgrade Apia Airport in Samoa,” she says.


“My sisters told me stories of spending lots of time chilling out under the trees at the beach. We enjoyed plump avocados straight from the tree and beautiful tropical fruits.”


After a few years back in New Zealand, Sofia was eleven years old when her father’s next assignment took the family to Sri Lanka.


While the climate remained tropical, her initial experience was one of shock at the extreme disparities of wealth and poverty.


“The culture shock as a child was seeing beggars and people who were missing their limbs from the civil war on the side of the streets that were also lined with 5-star hotels” she recalls.


“What was eye-opening for me however, and would later have a profound influence on my art, was living in a culture where Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity existed side-by-side. We would often visit ancient sacred sites and temples. Sri Lanka was a beautiful, tumultuous and spiritual place for me at a formative time in my life.”


Sofia was based in China when school ended for her at age 17.


“I went to stay with mum and dad, who were living in China at an Industrial Park in Suzhou, two hours from Shanghai. Everything seemed to be growing in China at an extraordinary pace.”


Re-adjusting back to New Zealand was more of a challenge than she expected, but art was her “saving grace” as she recalls.


"Painting re-connected me to my Ngāti Porou, Swedish, English and Irish roots, and over the years helped me integrate the intense level of diversity that I had experienced overseas.


“I’m now noticing a shift in the acknowledgement and embracing of indigenous cultures worldwide. As Māori, we are fortunate to have a direct connection, a mutual kaitiaki or guardianship with the land.”


Sofia’s passion for the stories handed down by her tupuna (ancestors) is evident in her paintings. “Many of my pieces feature the atua (gods) from Māori creationary cosmology. For example Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother) who were joined in a close embrace with their children living in the darkness between them.


Their strongest son, Tāne, who became the progenitor of humankind, pushed his parents apart, allowing light and space for the world of living things to flourish.”


What Sofia sees and feels emerging is a rising indigenous voice, which the people and planet are going to benefit from, “because more of us are now open to interacting with the land and environment differently,” she says, adding she has let go of the burden of being labelled.


“With red hair and freckles and strong Māori spiritual roots, my whole life has been one of trying to assimilate contradictory parts of who I am. I’ve let go of the labels foisted upon me, and painting has provided a pathway for self-discovery. It’s helped me to integrate Pacific, Eastern and Western cultural influences into my own philosophical beliefs,” she says.


Through painting, I’m constantly creating a model of reality and the cosmos that rings true to me. This means merging esoteric and ancestral wisdom from around the world, from Māori myths, symbols and whakataukī (proverbs), and sacred geometry.”


She admits to being in a “far better creative space” today than struggling to cope as an artist who was focussed on paying the bills.



“Like other artists, I’ve had some difficult years,” she recalls.


“When I fell into the trap of putting commercial security above spontaneous creativity, it felt so wrong. It was terrible for my mental health and sucked the inspiration out of what I was doing.”


“It took me months to turn things around to an authentic place, but transforming my studio into a sacred, playful environment really helped.”


What re-emerged was Sofia’s enjoyment painting and having fun as an artist.


“I decided to partner with so I could let go of all the admin and distribution of my limited edition prints giving me the space to create. They’re another indigenous business celebrating the power of cultural diversity and indigenous wisdom.”


19th-century historical oil paintings by artists Charles Frederick Goldie and Gottfried Lindauer inspired Sofia’s contemporary portraits.


“I see both of them as important portrayers of Māori but through colonial eyes, which is why I’ve enjoyed painting Māori faces and stories from a more mythological and indigenous standpoint,” she says.


As well as taking inspiration from other indigenous and visionary artists, Sofia absorbs podcasts and audiobooks on a daily basis. She finds her passion for being creative in the studio builds up when she spends time out in nature and in the garden planting fruit trees and communing with her plants.


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Read more features like this in the latest issue of SPASIFIK Magazine, out now!