Māori Visual Arts Collective Whanganui 2022-2023
Nā Vanessa Edwards-Buerger
As a newly appointed member of Te Ātinga Contemporary Māori Visual Arts Committee, I would like to acknowledge Te Ātinga and especially Gabrielle Belz (above right) for honouring me with this role, to support contemporary Māori visual arts within the Whanganui rohe and beyond.
Nga mihi e hoa, e te mareikura, he mihinui ki a koe Gabrielle.
Gabrielle, as a fellow ink slinger has supported and mentored me over the years, and in doing so has afforded me many opportunities through Te Ātinga and beyond to grow and develop my skills, knowledge and networks as an artist and printmaker. Now is the opportunity for me (above left) to give back.
Each of us on Te Ātinga are rohe (region) representatives, and we were given the wero (challenge) of organising an event that would identify and connect our Māori visual artists within our assigned rohe. We were all faced with the same dilemma as it was a tough time (2022) with the pandemic hanging over our heads like a thunder cloud, raining on all of our parades and although a wānanga would have been great, an exhibition would prove to be the more stable option. Being the pragmatic person I think I am, I knew we could make this happen and it was going to be the best Puanga exhibition ever!
I wanted to create an opportunity to identify and connect our Māori art practitioners in the Whanganui rohe, those who whakapapa to Te Awa Tupua and those who are living and practicing within the wider rohe, like myself. Initially I approached a number of artists to gain support and was pleased at the positive response as all who were approached agreed. A brief around the concept of “Huritau” was created to celebrate Puanga and the Māori new year. Space at the Whanganui Community Arts Centre on the river was booked from the 9th - 26th July 2022.
huritau 1. (verb) (-a,-tia) to consider, reflect upon.
Huritau is usually a word associated with birthdays and celebrating the anniversary of one's birth, but it simply means the turning of the year and can refer to any anniversary. It also means to consider or reflect upon. This show would consider what had happened within the last year (2021 - 2022) through the artworks of those participating. The show supported the “Rising Puanga” celebrations of Whanganui enabling Māori Artists to participate through exhibiting work together whilst creating a space for the community to reflect on the year and celebrate our Māori artists.
When Naani Waitai was approached to be in the group show, she mentioned she had yet to show her graduate work from Massey Maori Visual arts in Whanganui and it was her aspiration to do so. This became an opportunity to support Naani in her aim, as an emerging painter and it seemed only appropriate to give her one of the rooms for the duration for the exhibition to debut a selection of her graduate and postgraduate works.
Naani’s exhibition, titled "Reporting Back", was a homecoming exhibition,
“It is a combination of two years of work created in 2020 and 2021, whilst studying with Te Toioho ki Āpiti - Massey University. The kaupapa of these works relate to narratives that belong to Whanganui, Ngāti Rangi and Ngā Wairiki iwi.” Naani Waitai 2022.
Below: Installation of "Reporting Back", Naani Waitai and whanau
From these exhibitions a conversation started with local Māori artists about what we aspire to do, to support, nurture and strengthen toi within this area. Kōrerorero (discussions) during the organisation and installation began naturally from, “we should do this every year,” to discussing a strategic plan with iwi and council to run our own gallery space somewhere in the community to promote local Māori art and Te Awa Tupua narratives.
The opening was a fantastic event, keeping in mind many people were still apprehensive about Covid and large events, it seemed people were finally ready and eager to shake that off and gather on mass. In true awa style the space was opened with a beautiful blessing and whakatau, Te Awa Tupua was present and Puanga was in our night sky. As people started filtering through the space I could see there were far more people there than we had anticipated - approximately 200 possibly more. The space was blessed, speeches done and the festivities began.
The show achieved its objective and so much more. All artists produced considered works, many specifically for the show. Some like Isiaha Barlow had not painted for 17 years, dusted off his brushes and produced 3 stunning pieces (below). Others like Tia Rangunui and her daughter Ming are rising stars but it was important to give them space to be acknowledged in their own community as Māori artists of the awa.
Just as important was to create supported space for the emerging babies of the group like Toka and Ngaroma Poa (above) and Rochelle Te Kaho to exhibit together with the more established practitioners. I would like to acknowledge all the awesome artists for their contribution and ongoing support from near and far.
Frances Stachl - Jeweler
Tapirioterangi Pirikahu - painter
Tia Ranginui - photographer
Tibet Ranginui - mixed media
Natasha Keating - painter
Maehe Ranginui - weaver
Isaiah Barlow - painter
Hemi Kiwikiwi - mixed media
Aaron Te Rangiao - sculptor
Toka Poa - illustrator
Ngaroma Poa - mixed media
Rochelle Te Kaho - photgrapher
Vanessa Edwards (Curator) - printmaker
Cecelia Kumeroa - mixed media
Wi Taepa - uku
Gabrielle Belz - printmaker
Naani Waitai (Solo) - painter
Over the duration of the exhibition we had between 450 - 500+ visitors from the community and beyond. Many were simply visiting the Community Arts Center as a part of their trip and stumbled across the show, but the majority were community members or from within the region who had heard about the show and came in specifically to see it. Some comments recorded include:
“Absolutely amazing, so glad I came in.”
“So wonderful to see such diversity.”
“Such a high standard of art.”
“I was overcome with emotion, it made me cry.”
During the second week we held a rangatahi hui in the space in conjunction with the Kate Gray Memorial Trust. The day was spent in the space discussing how to read and experience art in context. By the end of the day participants were challenged to present a piece of work to the group and say, what they "see". It was one way to activate the space as a place of wānanga and something we would like to build on in the future.
On the last Sunday we held an artists pot luck lunch in the space and several artists attended including; Frances, Rochelle, Isaiah, Toka, Tia and Gabrielle. We discussed how we thought the show went and what our aspirations for the future were. All agreed the show was a great success and wanted to build on that by repeating a Puanga based show every year, as well as having a “making" wānanga in 2023-2024, to encourage connection and recognition, and to nurture emerging artists. Gabrielle talked about the history of Ngā Puna Waihanga in Whanganui and that it is important to be aware that this is not something new in our rohe but that we are picking up the kaupapa and moving it forward.
To that end we have tentatively named ourselves Awa Rere Roa, the continuous flowing/flying river. As Ngā Puna Waihanga described the potential of a bubbling spring we acknowledge the evolution to a flowing body of water that connects us to Te Awa Tupua and the strength and aspirations of its people.
Below: Whānau and ringatoi
E rere kau mai te Awanui, mai i te Kāhui Maunga ki Tangaroa.
Ko au te Awa, ko te Awa ko au.
The great river flows from the mountains to the sea.
I am the river and the river is me.