Early in August, attending the opening of TIKA TONU exhibition was a large crowd representing whanau and friends of the artists being exhibited and a smattering of the arts community at large. Great energy filled the foyer of the Hastings City Art Gallery with the traditional welcome, karakia, voices raised in waiata, followed by happy conversations, tables groaning with kai moana, everyone shoulder-to-shoulder in celebration.

The work is by thirty-four Ngati Kahungunu Iwitoi artists who are exhibiting as a collective, 8 August – 1 November 2020.

The main gallery is full of large and varied paintings and sculpture, the moveable gallery walls placed to accommodate it, the lighting capturing the colour and the energy embodied in the exhibits. 

The names are of Toimairangi students young and old, present and past and the schools founder, Dr Sandy Adsett, who in recent years has received many honours for his lifetimes commitment to Maori art and education.

The first impression is one of powerful forces at work, a huge self-confidence expressed and delivered through a cultural language that is Maori’ perhaps more correctly, Ngati Kahungunu. The HCAG Exhibition designer, Jonathan Brown worked with Adsett to develop the space that creates the impression of entering a wharenui.

As young men the 1950s and 60s, a cohort of young Maori artists including Sandy Adsett, Para Matchett, Cliff Whiting, Ralph Hotere, started their own revolution by exploring the use of traditional Maori design and symbols and developing it for their own time, their own kaupapa. 

The art form belongs to the culture,says Adsett. We are working with the artforms we grew up with, familiar images and we enjoy the colour and the movement. So much of the understanding of traditional Maori patterns and design has been lost, but these artists are working with their own template, based on the old designs and developing it to create new designs and patterns that represent their own cultural experience.

TIKA TONU means Us, Now, so, What is right for us, now’ is a Ngati Kahungunu art movement which has evolved under Adsetts leadership and guidance.

Former Toimairangi student, Shanon Hawea and one of the Kahungunu Iwitoi collective, says, Its a distinctive Maori, painted identity and as Maori artists we have a responsibility to revitalise our art forms. Traditionally painting is not a strong Maori art form. Our traditions come from carving, tā moko and just as Te reo Maori has grown and expanded to accommodate changes in our language through to present times, so we as artists have to focus on traditional cultural design templates and make them contemporary.

The strongest message,says Dr Adsett, is be Maori and be together. Its a collective and the fact that we can get together thirty-four artists who are not just thinking about their own artwork, but how it fits in the context of the other artists. They are respecting who they are. What they are engaging in are our artforms and we have a responsibility to ensure it is the best we can achieve in terms of art practice.

Clayton Gibson, Curator at the Hastings City Art Gallery, says, “We as a team feel it has been a great privilege to be working along side Dr Sandy Adsett (who curated this exhibition) and nga ringatoi o Ngati Kahungunu collective that it represents.

“It is the intention of our team at the Hastings City Art Gallery to work with Sandy and Iwitoi so they have a regular space to exhibit. We want to create a gallery environment in which ringatoi o Ngati Kahugnunu feels comfortable, so that their exhibitions become an integral part of their creative process.”

TIKA TONU is a landmark exhibition – dont miss it! 8 August – 1 November 2020

Source: Maori Television Te ao Moana

Lead image:
Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa
Roimata Whakairo by Kahu Hurae

Second image:
Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa
Te Eke Tu o Te Kahu Series by Nick Tupara

Third image:
Sandy Adsett and Aana Adsett with artwork
Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa
Tuhi Series by Sandy Adsett

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