Photo: Putaanga Waitoa

In these, the darkest days of the year, it is good to have something to look forward to. Our newest public holiday, Matariki, gives us a chance to do just that. It is a celebration that is uniquely our own in Aotearoa, unburdened by the shackles of colonialism, a time for honouring the past, celebrating the present and looking to the future. 

As a fledgling nationwide celebration we are granted the opportunity to create new traditions to deepen our connection with te ao Māori. Kare, a new exhibition opened on June 30 at CAN (Creative Arts Napier), does just that. Eleven wāhine artists answered the call of curator, Putaanga Waitoa, to create new works in a range of media. “Kare is a call to action. It’s a call to dream and reflect on our place within the universe and our communities, to gather and celebrate the strength and creativity which abounds when wāhine come together,” reflects Waitoa.

The small exhibition room is warm, cosy and inviting, the works diverse. Waitoa has a talent for digging beneath the surface, seeking out artists from all walks of life whose work does not fit the establishment mould, the act of curatorship becoming one of activism, a strident call for change.

Alex Heperi’s Ngā Mata o te Ariki references the defiant act of the god Tāwhirimātea, plucking out his eyes and lending them to the skies to become stars of Matariki. Heperi’s painting style belies her architectural background while bringing a contemporary twist to traditional Māori painting forms.

Te Aho Jordan’s photographic series, Ngā Raukura AIO, celebrates members of the local takatāpui community, imbuing them with dignity and beauty, the gift of being seen. Recently named a National Geographic young explorer, Jordan’s mahi shines a light on the marginalised, empowering and uplifting.

Nephi Tupaea’s Pōhutukawa showcases the established artist’s newfound foray into painting. Part portraiture, part traditional kowhaiwhai, the mahi is unmistakably Tupaea’s, bringing the same instinctive composition and colour work displayed in her wearable works to the canvas.

Severely’s greyscale screen print, Small Town, mixes text and imagery with a punk rock effect. A stark commentary on high and low art, the piece leaves the viewer with a pungent feeling of what it is like to be an emerging artist in regional Aotearoa.

Valia Hedges’ Absence directly references the Matariki stars, the bulk of the page obliterated by charcoal and pencil, the focus on the negative space, what is taken away rather than what is applied. 

Tarisse King’s circular canvases, The Seven Sisters and Jawi express the exhibition’s kaupapa in her signature traditional First Nations style, exploring past, present and future in a way that is at once intimately personal and universally relatable.

Jessa Kaa Te Pō Strachan’s Whakataa o Waitī features traditional Māori painting on reclaimed wood, the Matariki stars shining in the background, a feat of bold composition and confident, stylistic brushwork.

Renee Paku’s incredibly intricately crocheted Hiwa lays draped over a comfy chair, almost teasing the viewer to touch and snuggle. Straddling the boundaries of art and craft, its careful colour composition and finely layered stitching mark it as gallery worthy.

Curator, Putaanga Waitoa, contributes both photography, for which she has made her name, but also shows some of her newer explorations into traditional forms – a meticulously constructed kowhaiwhai print, ‘Ue. The piece complements beautifully her styled portraiture, Hine Pū Tē Hue, in collaboration with Tekaiirirangi Harmer, Keri-Mei Zagrobeina and Phil Belcher, exhibiting the mana, power and presence we have come to expect from Waitoa’s mahi.

Te Kīra Whakamoe exhibits two complementary pieces, Tuarā and Papa Tūhāhā, together exploring the dichotomy of community and isolation and the balance between them, each empowering in its own way. Handcrafted with pigments and plants from the whenua, the upcycled natural materials are lovingly and intentionally worked and reworked to produce deeply meaningful taonga of great reverence.

At the room’s centre Ahi Nyx’s Hine-Te-Iwaiwa displays a selection of fine harakeke, a triumph of both aesthetic and function, beautiful and durable. Referencing the atua of divine femininity, the mahi weaves together past, present and future, and the kaupapa as a whole.

Kare takes its name from the Māori word for a dear friend. Being in the presence of this mahi is akin to being privy to a conversation of friends, each unique but all speaking to each other. It is the first of many conversations to come. Just as with the Matariki holiday, it will continue to evolve and grow with passing years, promising something to look forward to in the depths of winter.

Kare shows at Creative Arts Napier from 30 June to 27 July.


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