Kaupapa Maori connections

He reka te Kumara curators (from left) Aroha Novak (Ngai te Rangi, Tuhoe, Ngati Kahungunu),...
He reka te Kumara curators (from left) Aroha Novak (Ngai te Rangi, Tuhoe, Ngati Kahungunu), Madison Kelly (Kai Tahu, Kati Mamoe), Mya Morrison Middleton (Ngai Tuahuriri, Ngai Tahu), Piupiu Maya Turei (Ngati Kahungunu, Rangitane, Te Atihaunui-a-Paparangi) in Woodhaugh Garden where artist Matt Pine’s sculpture stands. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A group of young Maori art practitioners curating an exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery have created a multilayered journey in pursuit of a greater understanding of matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge). Rebecca Fox discovers what collaboration has meant to the group. 

Your mother is always right.

We have all heard that at some point in our lives. For Piupiu Maya Turei having her mother suggest to her she did not need to make her exhibition as the curatorial intern of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery alone jibed at first.

‘‘She was totally right, though,’’ Turei said.

Grabbing a hold of the idea, Turei asked three fellow Dunedin art practitioners to join her in co-curating an exhibition based on a foundation of matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge or world view) and what it means to them as artists.

‘‘Which is incredibly broad, we’ve come to discover.

‘‘It was about the four of us working collaboratively together in a kaupapa Maori way. The project stemmed from a desire to work in a specifically Maori way.’’

Excited by the idea, Madison Kelly, Mya Morrison Middleton and Aroha Novak, all experienced artists in their own right, jumped on board.

Kelly says having always been interested in the way art practices can be a form of knowledge-holding in their own right, this seemed an ideal opportunity.

‘‘I was excited. To curate in a kaupapa Maori way with Maori art and explore — that is a really great opportunity.’’

Middleton saw it as a way to learn, put that learning into practice and see how that learning changed the practice as it developed.

‘‘I was really into it. I’ve always been impressed by all the technology we have as Maori.’’

So at the end of April the group began what was to become a constantly evolving process of learning, listening and collaboration to form ‘‘He reka te Kumara’’.

‘‘The connecting part is most important,’’ Kelly said.

Tueri does not believe doing the exhibition on her own would have produced the same results.

‘‘I don’t think it would have been nearly as good. It would have been different, more straightforward, but I think the conversation and negotiations that has happened has really strengthened the show itself.’’

Using kaupapa Maori research methodologies, they sought to expand their understanding of what it means to see the world through Maori eyes, and how this lens can be applied to making an exhibition.

‘‘We are interested in the ways that art communicates knowledge. Not only visual art, but also waiata (songs), purakau (stories) and whakatauki (proverbial sayings),’’ Turei said.

‘‘It’s about being in conversation with other people and resources and it’s really hard to define. It’s like a feeling.’’

Middleton says that has been a challenge in itself.

‘‘We’ve come out with more questions than answers, really, not in a bad way, more in a exciting way. We’re now having conversations about future collaborations.’’

They decided to take a holistic approach to their search, being kind to each other, questioning whether to have food at meetings and if they are recognising each other’s commitments in life.

Kelly says they never tried to pin down an exact meaning, instead trying to enjoy the process of listening and reflecting to see where it would take them and how it would connect them to the works in the DPAG’s collection.

‘‘Enjoying the questioning and thinking process rather than thinking you completely understand or working in isolation.’’

One of the most exciting and challenging things for Middleton has been the opportunity to access the gallery’s collection.

‘‘These are works of experienced, senior artists that we have only really engaged with through books or in galleries. I felt totally spoiled.’’

Kelly says it has been like ‘‘meeting’’ those artists in a small way.

They had a light-bulb moment when they came across a series of Marilynn Webb (Ngati Kahu, Te Roroa) works Baby 3 and Baby and Fire they have nicknamed ‘‘the babies’’. Painted in 1990, the works are part of a suite called ‘‘Bleeding Earth Goddess’’.

‘‘I find it’s a really difficult name,’’ Turei said.

Each found the works striking given what they knew of Webb’s works as being more landscape and conservation focused. Unfortunately, the group did not get to meet Webb before she died earlier this year.

‘‘They are figurative works, which she didn’t do a lot of, so finding that was really exciting.’’

Through conversation about what matauranga Maori is, the artists found her works led them back to the initial discussions about whakapapa, birth, gestation, learning and life force.

‘‘They’ve become the guiding pou works for us.’’

Turei says they have discovered there is no one point in time when someone discovers they know everything about matauranga Maori.

‘‘It’s always a process of development. It’s always a process of learning, of revising and thinking, talking, reading and listening and reading.’’

From the discovery of the Webb works they began the search for others with each of the curators selecting works from outside the collection from artists Areta Wilkinson (Ngati Irakehu, Te Hapu o Ngati Wheke, Ngai Tuahuriri), Georgina May Young (Te Upokorehe, Whakatohea, Irish) and Aydriannah Tuiali’i (Ngapuhi, Ngati Hamoa).

Those works formed the third arm of the exhibition, the first being ‘‘the babies’’, the second the works from the gallery.

‘‘Their works are quite significant.’’

Kelly says they selected those works because they resonated with their own existing knowledge and led them into new knowledge.

Wilkinson’s work is a good example, she says.

‘‘She uses whakapaipai, body adornment, jewellery as a way of recording tikanga specific to Kai Tahu so when you see those you are feeling the knowledge in a really embodied way, and the way they are going to be installed will also leave traces; it’s made with kokowai, the red ochre, so there is this awesome connection of the earth, the whenua, also being the placenta, whakapapa and blood lines and it all goes back to the ‘babies’.’’

Turei says everything comes back to the babies because they are in development, they are in the process of growing.

Middleton chose Tuiali’i’s work ‘‘as it resonated with me around the journey of refining language’’.

‘‘The massive power waiata and kapa haka have to, like, hold knowledge.’’

In the video work Tuiali’i is singing a karakia which talks about Maori understanding of the creation of the world.

‘‘I learned that waiata from her. I’m always in awe of waiata as a technology that exists between people and transmits information that lives within us. That work is really moving; I often cry when I see it. It reminds me of that everlasting power that is generational.’’

Novak brought in two

works from Young, a textile artist who dyes her own fabrics and collages, embroiders

and weaves her works.

‘‘For Aroha, she brings whenua into her work by dying her stuff with it and represents it when she stitches the landscape on to it. Both of those things are super labour-intensive and secondly they speak really beautifully to the history of weaving and the weaving technologies of Aotearoa,’’ Turei said.

Kelly says it underpins the continuation of time that some of the works from artists who have died provide.

‘‘The are still alive in the marks and the way they were made. It is understanding the knowledge they were sharing in conversation with really new works from artists who haven’t been shown in this context before.’’

Another of the gallery’s works they have selected is one by the late sculptor Matt Pine (Te Ati Awa, Te Ati Hau Nui-a-Paparangi, Ngati Tuwharetoa) from his series ‘‘Above Ground’’, which he did in 1990.

A lot of his work is influenced by pre-European Maori architecture reimagined by the modern world and they will have a small maquette of his work in the exhibition.

Also in the exhibition is a maquette of a Shona Rapira Davies (Ngati Wai ki Aotea) work.

‘‘We really encourage people to go out to the Oputae garden at Port Chalmers to have look at Shona’s work out there and also go to Woodhaugh Garden to have a look at Matt’s work there.’’

Kelly says the maquettes show the development process a work undergoes.

‘‘They’re almost a signal for that developmental process. You can think through and incubate these ideas that are out in the world.’’

Pine’s maquette will be displayed surrounded by books recommended to the group.

‘‘His work is nestled in all these lovely trees in Woodhaugh, so there is like paper and trees and the knowledge held in the books,’’ Turei said.

It has been important for the group to acknowledge and honour Pine and Webb, who died during the development of the show.

‘‘Both of their works are really significant for the show. They are really interesting works. It’s nice to be able to have them in the show,’’ Turei said.

Middleton says from language revitalisation trust Kotahi Mano Kaika they will have Ngai Tahu waiata they have recorded in the exhibition.

‘‘So having that knowledge from the books and the waiata in the space is really important to us to open the space for people to access knowledge.’’

Kelly says they are on the same level as the artwork or any other type of knowledge.

‘‘It’s not one set category for holding knowledge.’’

Turei says there are many layers to knowledge and it is held in many different ways. That is shown in the scope of mediums to be exhibited, which range from video, jewellery and sculpture to photography and painting.

‘‘All of those things resonate with people in different ways. Some people find waiata really helpful, some people find textbooks really helpful. Both ways are legit — there is no hierarchy of where knowledge is held.’’

An important aspect of the exhibition is the quote that will greet people at the start of the exhibition from Hori Kerei Taiaroa, a prolific writer and politician from Otakou, known as the father of the Ngai Tahu Claim in the South, which is being used with the permission of the H.K. Taiaroa Trust.

‘‘We really grateful to be able to have his handwriting and a quote from him on the front doors.’’

Kelly says the significance of this to the group is the handwriting itself.

‘‘It’s this very personal method of recording and preserving literally in your own hand, tied to a specific time and place where he wrote it himself, in the way that drawings do or any other art, the mark-making being the thing, that story, that knowledge for us, and allows us to feel that across time.’’

Turei says Taiaroa played a significant role in this area’s past so it was important to acknowledge him and his role in recording the past.

‘‘That is really significant and important and a great testament to developing yourself through matauraka.’’

The biggest thing she has discovered through this process is that whakapapa is ‘‘everything’’.

‘‘Not just through bloodlines: it’s also about the relationships you build and how you interact with the world. You want to maintain and strengthen relationships.’’

Many of the artists whose works are on display have connections that are not only related by their art practice but also by blood lines.

‘‘It also makes the show stronger as there are these relationships with the artists. You can’t separate the artists from their art, so they relate on many different levels.’’

She admits it is difficult to explain the exhibition to people as there are ‘‘15 million layers to everything’’.

‘‘Every time you explain it a different one comes up.’’

For Kelly that is the point.

‘‘It’s about having the openness to finding those connections and listening to what resonates with you and see how that reflects with other works you see or in the conversations you have with other people and enjoying that process.’’

They drew the exhibition’s name from its meaning of humbleness.

‘‘This is a celebration of the knowledge we have and figuring out what was important to show off,’’ Middleton said.

Turei says the show is about how amazing matauranga is, how useful it is in people’s lives.

‘‘The impact it has had on us and other people and how it is a living knowledge system that expands and breathes and is awesome. We think it is really cool and interesting.’’

TO SEE:

He reka te Kumara
Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Opens November 13

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