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Inherited creativity

Ko Wai is the new exhibition at HOEA! Gallery that shows the designs found on waka hoe (paddles) in museums around the world.

Steve Gibbs is one of the artists exhibiting works along with his son Maia Gibbs, Maia Keane, Kaaterina Kerekere and Jual Toroa who are all related through whakapapa of Ngai Tamanuhiri and their artistic creativity.

Gibbs says the title, Ko Wai, in this instance is not a question but a statement that relates to the creators of a series of painted and carved waka hoe that were the central focus of his PhD research.

The works produced concentrate six years’ worth of paintings, drawings and research into a single exhibition.

“It is a series of analytical paintings based on a number of hoe that were located throughout Europe but have their origins in Turanganui,” Gibbs says.

The exhibition was instigated and curated by HOEA! Gallery and project space manager Melanie Tangaere-Baldwin.

“It is about tautoko as a means of supporting and working with our own as well as being given the opportunity to exhibit with artists who share the same whakapapa (bloodlines) as well as a shared inherited creativity that lives within us,” says Gibbs.

Gibbs is of Ngai Tamanuhiri, Ngati Rangiwaho, Rongowhakaata, and Rongomaiwahine descent.

The waka hoe are decorated with design systems that are the oldest extant examples of customary kowhaiwhai (customary maori pattern painting).

They are the main form of pattern painting seen in most meeting houses built throughout Aotearoa since the early 1800s to present day, Gibbs says.

This body of work is dedicated to his whanau and kaumatua of Muriwai who created and supported the opportunity to engage in the process of locating and negotiating the return of several taonga tuku iho (treasures handed down by ancestors) from international museum collections and brought them back to Turanganui in 2019.

To see the designs in greater detail, Gibbs used infrared light to see the paint pigments so he could accurately recreate the designs.

The painting systems are now prevalent on the heke (rafters) of most modern Maori meeting houses in place of carved poupou (ancestral figures). The works are titled by the venues where they currently reside.

All of Gibbs’ artworks are painted in ultramarine blue, a signature colour of his, on tapa (framed diptych).

The set of waka hoe prints is titled Trade Me because the works were traded away. There are 23 waka hoe in the series that all have the same design systems.

There are hundreds of hoe housed in museums around Europe and the US, and eight painted hoe paddles in the Tu Te Whaihanga exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum.

Ko Wai! An exhibition featuring works by Steve Gibbs, Maia Gibbs, Maia Keane, Kaaterina Kerekere, and Jual Toroa. HOEA! Gallery, 67 Gladstone Road until July 17.

KO WAI: Toihoukura Maori art and design school tutor Steve Gibbs has created a series of works based on waka hoe from around the world that were traded in 1769. Picture by Paul Rickard