ON the surface of it, Toihoukura’s new exhibition does not appear to have a lot to do with the Matariki (Maori New Year) theme it has been installed to celebrate.
But look deeper, says Steve Gibbs, principal tutor at the Eastern Institute of Technology’s contemporary Maori art school in Gisborne.
“This major exhibition showcases the work students at all levels have been producing throughout the year so there is that sense of beginnings,” he said.
“And they have been locked into kaupapa that tie in with Matariki concepts. The first years have been focusing on Ranginui (‘the sky father’); the second years Papatuanuku (‘the earth mother’); and the third years tangata (‘the people’).
“So while the work might not necessarily be directly related to Matariki, much of it can be linked to it.”
Matariki is the name of the Pleiades star cluster — or The Seven Sisters — that is visible around this time of year, the words “mata riki” meaning “tiny eyes”.
However, in naming their new exhi-bition the team at Toihoikura added a twist of their own by choosing to call it Te Mata-Ariki — “mata ariki” meaning “eyes of the gods”.
And raranga (weaving) student Toni Sadlier has chosen to add a twist of her own. In one of the more dramatic pieces shown, the second-year diploma student has created a series of five circular frames from which she has draped fine tendrils of dyed flax, hanging them chandelier-style in descending order.
She has cheekily named her piece Makawe Ariki . . . “the hair of the gods”.
Sadlier’s attendance at Toihoukura is a new beginning in itself, the former social worker having decided that, when the last of her three children had left home, she would follow her passion.
“I was introduced to harakeke (flax) through my whanau more than 20 years ago and really took a shine to it, but have only be able to pursue it every now and again,” she said. “It was fantastic to be able to come to Toihoukura and devote myself to it full time.”
Overall, the show features more than 60 pieces by the school’s 60 students, with media ranging from uku (claywork) and raranga to painting and carving.
Skill levels vary, too, from the tentative customary kowhaiwhai designs made by first-year students to the more sure-handed works by senior painters.
“Many of our students have been doing some very interesting work and this exhibition is a way of showing that off,” Gibbs said. “Like Matariki itself, we feel as though we have ended up with a whole lot of stars.”
■ Te Mata-Ariki will be opened at Toihou-kura’s Cobden Street galleries tonight (6.30pm).