Dedicated to the art
The next generation of Aotearoa's top talents were celebrated at Toihoukura at a special award ceremony to cap off 2021.
Fourteen students from Toihoukura, Eastern Institute of Technology's school of Māori visual art and design, were selected for the Amokura study awards.
Heremaia Barlow took out the top student prize — the Ruanuku award.
Barlow exemplifies “everything we want to see in a Toihoukura student”, Toihoukura tutor Erena Koopu said.
“He has commitment, outstanding quality of work and very high achievement in his academic work.
“Heremaia has been very active in all the activities we have been involved in and is humble, passionate and proud of his work,” Erena said.
Winning the top student award was a goal for 29-year-old Heremaia.
“I worked hard towards it. It feels awesome. I am the first one in my family to get a degree. I did it for my family too.”
He grew up in Auckland with whakapapa back to Kawhia and Dargaville.
“I knew about Toihoukura and always wanted to pursue my art, but I knew no one in Tairāwhiti and had no family here so it was quite daunting. But in 2019 I decided I had to make it happen.
“I knew all the top tā moko artists in the country had come through Toihoukura.
“I learned about (Sir) Derek (Lardelli) and his tā moko knowledge and general Māori knowledge and I wanted to learn that.
“Also Henare Brooking was a tutor when I first started. Those two were my main influencers in terms of pursuing Māori art.”
He classes himself as a kowhaiwhai painter first then a graphic designer.
“Originally I was a painter. For 10 years I painted on canvas but never took it seriously. This has given me the opportunity to transition a hobby into full time.”
His talents progressed a lot during his three-year degree.
Barlow's long-term goal is to maintain his art practice to sustain a lifestyle.
Intending to step into sculptural work and outside installations, he signed up to study mechanical engineering at EIT Tairāwhiti next year alongside a carving course.
The 14 students received their awards and a cash prize from educator and arts patron Dr Jack Richards, who has supported Toihoukura since it started in 1996.
“We are extremely grateful for the support of Dr Richards. He always shows up and comes to our exhibitions,” Erena said.
Every Ruanuku student receives more than a monetary prize.
“One of Heremaia's art pieces will be chosen and bought for Dr Richards' Ruanuku Selection, held at the Tairawhiti Museum.”
His work will join 25 other pieces.
“To get the monetary value of the award is one part but it is so much more than that because of the mana — there are amazing artists in that selection,” Erena said.
Honours student Anna-Belle Graham was awarded the Amorangi-Te Hono Ki study award for her post-graduate study.
The other degree awards went to Maia Keane (year three), year two students Bridy Lundon, Hamiora Renata and Nathaniel Nathan and year one students Taylor Robson, Danaan Beatson and Makuira Cook.
The diploma award was presented to Laura Main and Kaa Te Mihi Puketapu won the certificate course award.
Erena said the students awarded have shown real dedication to Toihoukura philosophy in becoming really good artists.
“It is not just their hard work and commitment to produce amazing mahi, but also their qualities as people.
“We not only want to make great artists but great people too.”
The students amplify the values Toihoukura has.
“They have shown excellent leadership skills, are good examples for their peers and they get stuck into everything we throw at them,” Erena said.