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Reflection of Te Tairawhiti

The banks of the Taruheru River will soon be draped with colour once the lights of Te Ara i Whiti are switched on for Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

“The kaupapa of Te Ara i Whiti is literally to create a light path, but it's also a reflection of Te Tairāwhiti being the first place to see the sun,” says Te Ara i Whiti curator Melanie Tangaere Baldwin.

“It's the idea of striving for excellence and reaching towards the light.

“For me curating Te Ara i Whiti, I wanted to bring together a group of artists that would give the people of Te Tairāwhiti and our manuhiri (visitors) a broader idea of what it is we are capable of and to show excellence in a new way.”

A challenge for the artists was learning how to harness light. Instead of lightbulbs in a gallery allowing visitors to see, the installations themselves shine in the dark.

“We worked closely with Angus Muir, who is a lighting artist and works in the construction of light work. He fabricated a lot of the work.”

Muir has won awards for his designs and has installed works at festivals around the country.

“We had a lot of back and forth,” Tangaere Baldwin says.

“We had an intensive wānanga (learning) process where we came up with the concept and paper design.

“Then Angus helped the artists move those ideas into artwork that works with light in an outdoor environment.

“It's a lot of constructive back and forth. Everyone walks away from this with a bunch of new skills and an understanding of what it takes to work in different mediums.”

Some artists have exhibited in Tairāwhiti, although Tangaere Baldwin — who also helps run Hoea! Gallery — specifically chose others who were new to the community to expand the communities' visual vocabulary.

“That's to make people see new ways of expressing toi Māori (Māori art),” Tangaere Baldwin says.

“It's different and diverse, but they all have whakapapa back to Te Tairāwhiti . . . they all have a different way of looking at the world and I wanted to create that in a physical space.

“It's about creating new experiences for the viewer by having a broad range of artists, disciples and ideas brought to the table.”

Exhibiting artists for 2021 include Chevron Hassett, Erena Koopu, Fiona Collis, George Watson, Huia Edmonds and Ngaire Tuhua, James Tapsell-Kururangi, Johnny Moetara, Maungarongo (Ron) Tekawa, Steve Gibbs, Taupuruariki (Ariki) Whakataka Brightwell, Tāwera Tahuri, and Terangi Roimata Kutia-Tataurangi.

Baldwin recommends visiting Te Ara i Whiti as many times as possible to find all the hidden details.

“Kids will experience it in different ways, so if you're a parent it might be nice to come alone.

“It's different for everyone. Last year people were going back because it's beautiful. It's nice to just relax in the new light.

As well as repeat viewings, Tangaere Baldwin says there are two artist talks for those who want to hear the stories behind the art because “with public works, it's hard to have that intimacy”.

The first artist talk will be held at Tairāwhiti Museum this Saturday at 5pm and the second at Lawson Field Theatre next Saturday (October 16) at 5pm. Registrations are needed to attend the artist talks.

Te Ara i Whiti is open to the public from tomorrow night, 5pm to 10pm, until October 17.

Visit https://tetairawhitiartsfestival.nz/ for all exhibitions, workshops, and performances.

ILLUMINATING THE CITY: Te Tairawhiti Arts Festival light exhibition Te Ara i Whiti is set to take over the Taruheru River this Friday until October 17. Picture by Phil Yeo