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Huia Mai Te Ora

It’s overwhelming, says Toihoukura student Lacey Bartlett about reaching her final year of study — and the exhibition Huia Mai Te Ora, which is made up of Maori visual arts school’s third year students’ work.

“It feels complete to have come full circle. Getting here was a hard slog then there was the Covid-19 lockdown. The lockdown pushed us artists into a deep space.

“All of these works are related to situations and feelings I’ve been through this year.

“I’ve been a weaver for 11 years now. In traditional weaving you’re often told ‘this is tapu, that is tapu’. Coming here, and coming out of lockdown, and listening to papa Derek (Lardelli) inspired us to reach these deep, dark places instead of getting stuck in them, and let them speak.

Bartlett’s collection of circular woven works, hung on one wall of the school’s gallery, includes the piece, Te Kamo o Te Rangi. When her 18-year-old nephew in Christchurch suffered a serious health incident and was placed in the intensive care unit where he was put into an induced coma, Bartlett flew to Christchurch to see him.

“He was woken up and re-sedated daily and would become agitated and confused,” says Bartlett.

“He could only speak through his eyes.”

A small, raised, circular opening at the centre of the woven piece represents the young man “stuck inside his head behind his eyes”. Six raised “peaks” at the edge of the small circular opening represent the artist, her parents and siblings. Small triangular spaces in the work are the “flickers of light coming through”.

Peaks in another concentric circle represent Bartlett’s nephew “coming to life”.

“The peaks on the outer edge are us surrounding him and him coming back to us,” says Bartlett.

Karaitiana Te Amotawa

Paintings hung around the walls of Karaitiana Te Amotawa’s exhibition space speak to the birth of her son Tuketenui — also the name of the collection — who was born during lockdown, says the artist.

“The works are a journey. They begin with a chant. Other paintings reference things I got through to get here, the chaos I went through — having the baby, doing my degree . . .”

The collection culminates in a large, free-hanging work that in the European canon would be called abstract expressionist. Slashed with vivid, restless strokes, the painting has multiple layers, says Te Amotawa. A red streak lashes the surface. Near it is a dark, roughly V-shaped form.

“I see in that my son who was cut out of me,” says Te Amotawa of the pattern.

A mat laid on the floor beneath the work holds the energy in the painting, she says.

Zoe Te Kani

Crepuscular light and calm is enclosed in the space that houses Zoe Te Kani’s immaculately arranged installation, Tatai Wahine (to adorn, beautify). The poutama pattern made up of clean white lines laid out on the installation floor reference the layout of Waiomatatini Marae’s wharenui, Porourangi. Waiomatatini Marae is located by the Waiapu River, south of Tikitiki.

Ancestral women are represented on the walls in large digital prints. At the centre of the installation is a glossy, black, square table surrounded by black chairs, and a comfortable, green chair that once belonged to her late grandmother.

“The whole layout is based on Porourangi. This is my own little whare. This is a digital way of doing a whakapapa.”

The idea of the table is for people to sit around it to share stories, to chat, says Te Kani.

“The kaupapa is about sparking conversations about our tipuna. I likened these women to stories I heard.”

Te Kani had planned to lay a sheet of glass on the tabletop to reflect the digital images.

“I want people to see qualities in themselves that connect to these tipuna,” she says.

“We’re in them and they live in us.”

Kassana Te Aho - Waikari

The assemblage of painted panels, including a central stylised figure, that make up Pohokura, one of Kassana Te Aho - Waikari's free-standing works, reference the tukutuku panels and carvings, as well as the kowhaiwhai seen on the heke (rafters) and tahuhu (ridgepole) within a wharenui.

“The marae I looked at was my marae, Hinerupe Marae in Te Araroa,” says Te Aho - Waikari.

She wanted to acknowledge in the work her recently passed grandfather who is represented by the central figure.

“Back in the day you would carve a pou for someone who had passed. I thought I needed to acknowledge his mana in there.”

Because she is not a carver, Te Aho - Waikari created a layered, free-standing work made up of painted and routed panels. The kowhaiwhai patterns in the outer panels and on the figure feature puhoro, split koru forms that represent speed, swiftness and agility. Series of kape, a notched crescent motif, can be seen in the routed panels and painted in the figure.

Her works include Te Awatea, a waka ama with a narrative design of three parts painted on the hull and outrigger arm (ama).

The puhoro that pattern the top of the hull in front of the cockpit represent two mythological sea birds that pull the waka while a kauae design “starts to give the waka an identity”.

Behind the cockpit is a tukutuku poutama pattern specific to Hinerupe Marae.

“I found my identity here,” says Te Aho - Waikari of Toihoukura.

“I wanted to acknowledge what Derek gave me. The whole design is a metaphor for my four years here.”

COMING FULL CIRCLE: Lacey Bartlett has a collection of woven works in the exhibition, including this piece, Te Kamo o Te Rangi. Picture by Mark Peters
ACKNOWLEDGING MANA: Kassana Te Aho - Waikari chose to represent her late grandfather in her painted panels at Toihoukura’s exhibition, Huia Mai Te Ora. Picture by Mark Peters
INSPIRED BY FAMILY: Toihoukura student Karaitiana Te Amotawa showcased paintings inspired by the birth of her son Tuketenui, also the name of the collection. Picture by Mark Peters
DIGITAL WHAKAPAPA: Zoe Te Kani’s installation, Tatai Wahine, is based on the layout of her marae, Porourangi. Picture by Mark Peters