Tania Williams: Portals of infinty

As 21 December 2012 approached, the media embarked on frenzy of stories about the imminent end of the world, often derisive in tone, with details of suicides and other extreme acts that were due to take place (generally in the West) in response to a global catastrophe. The facts about the 'Maya Long Count' calendar and its significance in Central and South American culture were almost lost. Artist, naturopath and anthropologist Tania Williams was among the minority of people in New Zealand who had a broader grasp of the day's significance: as the start of a new, possibly more spiritually enlightened era. The day was consequently celebrated in a series of large parties in Mexico, Guatamala, Belize and Honduras - areas once part of the Mayan empire which had its peak from 250 to 900 AD. The day also marked the opening of her exhibition Maya 2012 Portals of Infinity at Aratoi. The 'Long Count' spanned a 5125 year period and the Mayan calendar is described as one of the most complex calendars in existence. "The Maya believe in cyclical time rather than the Western concept of linear time," says Tania, whose interest in Mayan culture dates back to her childhood: "I was always on the side of the Indians whenever I watched cowboy films." Educated in Norway and Australia, she has degrees in both naturopathy and anthropology, and worked as an artist on the King Kong film set, taking trips back to Latin America when time allows. She runs art classes in Wairarapa, and is offering a workshop on Maya Mandalas later in the year. She is also this year studying at The Film School in Wellington, developing skills which will further a current project - a documentary on indigenous medicine and healing in which she interviews a Maori healer from Masterton, a shaman living in New Zealand, along with Peruvian, Andian and Mexican healers. A deep respect for indigenous cultures informs this exhibition and her wide ranging career to date: "I feel a responsibility to make people aware of the knowledge of indigenous cultures throughout the world, and of what they can offer us... For example, it's interesting to note that the Maya built and sustained an urban civilisation in a rain forest environment for more than 2,000 years while our 'advanced' modern civilisation has managed to almost completely destroy that rain forest in less than 50 years." She says she has always been instinctively drawn to archways and entrances, which are often monumental and extremely ornate in ancient Mayan architecture: "I now understand it's because they represent the journey from one space, sphere and time to another." Mountains, caves, and pools of water have also been regarded as portals to other worlds by ancient cultures, and these are also recurring themes in her exhibition of digital montages, paintings and prints. In Mayan culture, shamans acted as intermediaries between the earth and mystical levels. "Shamans move freely from the ordinary world to deal directly with gods and ancestors to bring cosmological and social balance to the world," says Tania. While the majority of the exhibition focuses on Mayan imagery, her digital image Ancestral Portal references her great grandfather the surveyor Captain William Mein Smith, a respected friend of Chief Tamahau Mahupuku of Papawai. Mein Smith is remembered in one of the carved figures that decorate the Pa. "I would like to see my art as a celebration and a reminder of the magic that exisis in all of life, both ancient and modern," she says. Those interested in Tania's workshops can contact her on: [email protected].