At CAN, 26 Jan - 13 Feb

In this exhibition, art contributes to the Treaty conversation.

As a nation, we are in the midst of an important conversation around guardianship and governance of this land. As Waitangi Day approaches, our founding document, from which all authority to rule and every migrant’s right to be here is derived, comes under scrutiny. 

Te Tiriti, or the Treaty, is a hot topic, made no less incendiary by the current government’s intention to tutū with its principles. Many Māori call foul play – say the Te Reo document their tīpuna signed on their behalf differs in essence from the English version from which rule makers made a paper shield to hide piracy and pillaging – that the treaty was a trick.

Much is lost in translation, not just of language but of world view. The Treaty prosaically grants ‘undisturbed possession of properties’, at odds with Ti Tiriti’s promise of ‘tino rangatiratanga’ over ‘taonga’. To a nineteenth century coloniser, whose Age of Enlightenment values saw all of nature as its equivalent in economic units, treasure was something one could hold in one’s hand, quantify and be compensated for. Te ao Māori’s interpretation of taonga is infinitely more slippery, stretching its tendrils between past and future, weaving in dreams and disparate meanings, conveying less a right of ownership than a responsibility of guardianship.

Te ao Māori has a trickster figure of its own – Māui Pōtiki, the demigod whose legend is legion across the Pacific. Embedded in Aotearoa’s creation myth and responsible for mortality, the many tales of his cunning curiosity make fertile fodder for creativity.

This was the inspiration for curator, contributor and, by virtue of her Ngāti Porou affiliation, direct descendent of Māui, Putaanga Waitoa, in cultivating the kaupapa of this exhibition. She sourced fifteen diverse artists from across both motu and invited them to contribute original works to inspire, educate and celebrate indigenous excellence. 

“Mauitanga – the personified form Māori take to embody the ancestral inventive and sharp witted energy to right the wrongs strategically through the use of traditional trickery,” is a mission statement by poet and artist Paiana Whaanga, of Kāinga Stories. Her expertly rendered verses and affirmations speak clearly to the kaupapa, stark and pared back, with strength in their simplicity. Her anchoring words at once extend an outstretched hand to those who struggle to understand both art and te ao Māori, and speak aloud the contents of the hearts of those who already know. 

There is carving from Heretaunga kaiwhakairo, Phil Belcher, and a pounamu and kowhai seed piece by celebrated stone worker, Tim Steel. 

Emerging artists, Samantha and Ana-Terinita Marks of Mai Marks display leatherwork and ceramics. 

Teenager Anahera Mear, who was discovered on tiktok, shows hand woven tukutuku panels in her first gallery exhibit, belying the tuakana-teina nature of the kaupapa.

Putaanga, known for her photography, displays the fruits of her labours in paint. 

Keith Cook’s paintings and 3D piece, all in his signature style, reference traditional patterns made all his own with colour schemes that dance in the eye contained by a soothing order. 

Cody Hollis’ vibrant pop art portraits jump off the canvas and pukana with glee. 

River Jayden immortalises the death of Māui between the thighs of Hine-nui-te-pō with electrifying neon fine lines on a black-as-night background. 

Jacqui Broughton illuminates op-shop trays with traditional figures and scenes rendered in a fine hand, their message sometimes spelled out in words – ‘never ceded’ again and again like lines on a chalkboard. 

Pūtere, creator of the exhibition poster depicting a Māori joker playing card, offers a similarly mirrored illustration flanked by simple single word statements, all rendered in earthy tones.

Hamuera Hita of Make Aotearoa Native Again and Pounamu Wharekawa illustrate and paint in contemporary style with an indigenous twist.

The sole pakeha contributor, Joseph Rowntree, offers a deific portrait of Māui, juxtaposed with a starkly rendered self-portrait, staring into the middle distance, overshadowed by the silhouette of a colonising soldier, the words “this is awkward” scratched into the canvas behind him. Acknowledging the awkwardness is the first step to an honest kōrero, one in which we all must take part if it is to have any real meaning.

For those who wish to try their hand at toi Māori a workshop is being held this Sunday 28th. The Whānau Collective teaches contemporary macrame weaving to create your own taonga.

This exhibition displays in glorious technicolour the diversity of talents and techniques being explored by today’s Tangata Whenua artists. They stand on the shoulders of their tīpuna, embrace the wealth of their culture, but evolve, transform and take their work to new heights. Rather than reproducing relics they take on the modern world with its contemporary concerns and hold up a lens to it, cloaked in the korowai of te ao Māori.

CAN 26 January – 12 February

Halo Workshop 28 January 10am-3pm


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