I am a self taught art maker.  I started drawing when I was nine and went to an art school for kids set up by art educator, Gordon Tovey at King Edward Technical College in Dunedin (1956).  Art making continued informally into adult life alongside songwriting, recording and live performance.   
In the time of the Settlement of Ngai Tahu  with the Crown, the arts were seen as way to move the tribe forward and away from grievance.    I facilitated events featuring the work and thinking  of Ngai Tahu artists across performing, visual and language arts disciplines & after four dynamic years, change was on my horizon.   I was interested in the application of the arts as a tool to build and strengthen skill amongst people groups and communities where there was less opportunity for creative development.

 Between 2003 and 2009 I trialled arts programmes as a tool amongst prisoners in Canterbury Prisons. The idea was to use the arts as a way to think about vision and goals for their future and the challenges that stopped progress of those goals.    I made art alongside men, women and youth, and took small collections of work to public audiences outside the wire.  There were a number of smaller and some large scale works and events developed  over a period of 6 years including the Ruia Prison Arts Fund Raising exhibition (see Prison Art pages).

I received an Arts Access Aotearoa National Award for Arts Services to Prisoners in 2007.  On the back of that I joined two other writers to develop a National Prison Art Strategy for Arts Access Aotearoa and the Department of Corrections Wellington (2008-2012).  That work was commissioned in the global economic downturn of 2008 - 2009,  the new John Key government  and a complex restructuring of government departments including NZ prisons.  This meant the strategy would be developed against a background of deconstruction.    

 In this period I met with The Learning Connexion who were delivering NZQA programmes to prisoner populations across New Zealand.  I was offered a series of scholarships between 2010 and 2015 that would familiarise me with their entire curriculum, activate a formal arts practice and introduce me to an understanding of materiality;  the use of art making materials that would built the narrative of work. (See Arts Workshop).














w a a n a k a - learning in the dark

9 November 2016

Art Seen: November 03

In this week's Art Seen, James Dignan looks at works by Moana Tipa, Emily Jackson, and an exhibition from Blue Oyster Gallery.

Untitled, by Moana Tipa.
Untitled, by Moana Tipa.
‘‘Wanaka — Learning in the Dark’’, Moana Tipa and Maraia Te Kahika (School of Art Gallery)

At the School of Art's gallery, Moana Tipa presents two mixed media series in charcoal wash and oil stick, accompanied by waiata from Maratia Te Kahika.

The works explore the legal and spiritual custodianship of land. With one series, this land is rendered as dark foreboding shadows against a plain canvas sky. It has a strong physical presence, yet is rendered in the most minimal of terms.

The dark earth becomes a metaphor for the days of winter in which the traditional ''learning in the dark'' takes place. In one particularly effective trio of pieces, dark land recedes beneath a distant horizon line, as if we are rising above the world and looking back.

The second series of works adds words, both in the form of exhortations against injustice and as a timeline displaying significant points in the history of land legislation.

The timeline is bright red, the only colour in the otherwise monochrome work, and is presented alongside topographical washes of grey. The use of red, white, and black, so common in Maori political art, is no coincidence.

The visual display is accompanied by Te Kahika's a capella voice, the words of the song becoming both a lament and an uplifting anthem of strength and hope.





w ā n a k a …  learning in the dark

  an exhibition of  paintings & sound

 MOANA TIPA painter / researcher

 MARAHIA TE KAHIKA singer/song writer/compose 



Waanaka - Learning in the Dark (2016} is three bodies of work:  Whakatātūtū – (Measure the Depth - 2015) an Advanced Diploma graduation exhibition from The Learning Connexion, Wellington with Dr. Peter Adsett,  the acapella sound track Aku Moutere  (Mara TK)  and Waanaka - Learning in the Dark.  Each work navigates landlessness,  loss and a legislative influence and doorway now some 349 years old, still open.

Wanaka - Learning in the Dark deals with death in the spirit of the land and hastily erected for sale signage on pristine shore front land. ‘Whose laws are operating here’?  

I visited Wanaka in winter 2016 to walk on ancient land sites with a view to understand something of the power I’d once felt in that land and to make work that would complete the  Whakatātūtū series of  paintings.

My immediate concerns about the landscape were affirmed by the research of local historian Mr. Ritchie Hewitt of Wanaka who escorted me to some of the well known home places, gardens,  ancient & sacred sites - waahi tapu.  

His research collection of Maori life and history in that area,  triggered a deluge of information that included the research of Fulbright Scholar, Dr Ann Brower and her publication in 2008 Who Owns the High Country.  

Her work reveals the continuing influence and ideas of John Locke, the 17th century writer, political theorist and philosopher, 349 years after it was written.

Dr Brower states “… according to Locke, improving and working the land creates a moral right to ownership…” (for lease-holders). She also asserts… “bureaucratic pathologies and not the law had governed land reform. The bureaucrats, not ministers, and not judges, were directing the biggest land carve-up in New Zealand’s short history”.

By 2006, twenty-two land tenure review processes had been ‘settled’ meaning  by that time, 58% of Crown land holdings in the Southern High Country had been transferred into private ownership,  subsidised by taxpayers at a cost of $18.5 million.

What are those figures in 2017?



Whose 17th Century ideas / Treatise continue to influence legislation in these lands   (Nā wai ngā whakaaro, me ngā tuhinga ō nehe rā,  i whakaawe ai ngā hanganga ture ki ēnei whenua?)

Whose words sown like seed still bloom and enslave? (Nā wai ngā kupu whakapononga - i ruia ano nei he kakano - e puawai ai?)

Appeal to Heaven, release the curse that enslaves;  the Wind that renews already stirs! (Me Inoi ki te Rangi, kia wetekina nga kupu whakapononga,  e tawiri ana Te Hau whakamohou)


                a k u   m o u t e r e     -   m y   i s l a n d s


             mara tk / vincent olsen-reeder / mark vanilau 


Kei hea aku moutere?                            Where are my islands

i  tauwhiro ra i ahau                              that nurtured me?

Taku waka te whiua                              My canoe has been cast

ki te koro Parata e                                 into the throat of the Parata

E te Kaihautu                                        O great Captain

Whatungaro te whenua i a  taua            The land is lost to us


Kia mahara ki te wa o te ora                   Remembering the times I was alive

Titaha ki tai                                          Now, swaying at sea

Pae ki uta                                             whilst the land is stable


Ua ia tagata ese                                     There’s a stranger

I o’u laufanua                                        in my home

Ua tulia i matou i a’au                           I’ve been outcast into the ocean

Ma ua fai o’u matafaga                           Sharks inherit these shores


E kore te uku, e piri ki te  rino              Clay doesn’t stick to iron

Engari  te uku e mau ki te kiri               But it does stick to skin


Kia mahara ki te wa o te ora                   Remembering the times I was alive

Titaha ki tai                                          Now, swaying at sea

Pae ki uta                                             whilst the land is stable



  1. Roll back the stone

    Charcoal wash / untreated canvas

  2. Untitled

    Charcoal & acrylic wash /untreated canvas

  3. Untitled

    Charcoal wash / oil stick / untreated canvas

  4. Untitled

    Charcoal wash / oil stick / untreated canvas

  5. Untitled

    Charcoal wash / oil stick / untreated canvas

  6. Untitled

    Charcoal wash / oil stick / untreated canvas

  7. Whose words?

    Oil stick / graphite / acrylic wash

  8. Sown like seed

    Oil stick / graphite / acrylic wash

  9. Appeal to heaven

Oil stick / graphite / acrylic wash



Fullbright Scholar, Dr. Ann Brower – Who Owns the High Country (Craig Potton Publishers 2006)

 Ann Brower   Whither the Crown’s interest in South Island high country land reform

J. McFarlane:  Lincoln PhD thesis 2011: Cutting up the high country: the social construction of tenure review and ecological sustainability – chapter on Ngai Tahu perspective 

Yale Law School – Lillian Goldman Law Library

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (March 1, 1669) (the Colonist Blueprint)

J.D. Lewis:  Carolinas Lords Proprietors 1668:  Anthony Ashley Cooper – Lord Shaftesbury - the Fundamental Constitutions (Colonist Blueprint) John Locke – Political theorist / philosopher 

Johnathan Bennett:  John Locke - The Second Treatise of Government

David Armitage, Harvard University: Carolina & the Two Treatise of Government

Morag Barbara Arneil BA. MSc. John Locke:  All the World was America

John Quiggin Australian Economist:  John Locke – Against Freedom 

John Quiggin:   Zombies Stalking the land – dead ideas still walk amongst us

Kenan Malik:  John Locke and the Not Quite so Glorious Revolution -

 Kenan Malik:  The Quest for a Moral Compass – a Global History of Ethics

Review – Cleveland State University

Bible:  New King James Version

Amos 5.24 Let Justice roll down like a river …

Matthew 28.2 … and rolled back the stone

 Thanks to:  Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu  (Ngai Tahu Fund)





2015 - GROUNDWORK / NAVIGATION / WHAKATAATUTU The Learning Connexion, Wellington

9 December 2014

October 6th 2014 marked the start of full-time painting & drawing scholarship with The Learning Connexion in Wellington NZ mentored by Peter Adsett (Melbourne).  I'm eight weeks into the Advanced Level 7 course realising I have little language for the territory I find myself.  Through the course of study and experimentation around process, materiality and horizontality the white paint on black builder's paper works arrived.  These works use both paint and the builder's paper as structures.  White being the floor and black working as a wall...  A key element of the work is an  indicator of time.

February 2015 started with a slow response to 'shifters' - elements in 2D works that cause a work to shift, focus or refocus.  The elements of line, linguistics, colour, shadow, on existent images /  collage etc are used to prioritise or bring the purpose of the work into clear view. 

 In the month of March  / April 2015 - site specific work was inspired by shadows on  concrete stairs in an outdoor auditorium I noticed 18 months earlier.   My focus was the uniform lines of moving shadow.  The resulting photographs prompt the geometric lines / patterns / grids reminiscent of navigational histories. 

 I  manipulated images to meet/align/respond to instinct, and in fact discovered marks that I'd been making for almost 20 years. I  began considering how or if the images could be progressed to respond to course directives of  materiality, process, verticality, horizontality, structure and ground. They could.  Armed with 12 gram unprimed tent canvas, eyeleted for easy transportation, I started experimenting with charcoal brushed wet into the grain of the fabric.  I used photos for reference and began to navigate the dark spaces that opened up.  One unresolved work although finished, led to another.

Navigating seemed to be the governing aspect of this work;   unchartered spaces of faith,  unknown earth and ocean,  ideas of measuring, surveying and charting depths / learning in the dark ...  to arrive at a point of resolve.      Seven x 2 metre works were made.  Five were shown as a series, in  a graduation exhibition, along with initiating photographic notes. 



21 January 2014


A number of ideas influenced these works;  the death of my Ngai Tahu / Kati Mamoe father and the notes of his great-grandfather Joseph Pita Tipa - (1896) about the waka Arai Te Uru.  The names of its 138 'survivors' were - for the sake of remembering them,  those  given to rocks, outcrops, hills, ranges, mountains, streams, rivers and reefs between Kaikoura and Kaitangata.  Another influence was the celestial navigational pattern, 'Te Ka o Makali'i (The Canoe-Bailer of Matariki) that would guide Maori and Polynesian voyagers across Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa (The South Pacific Ocean) over a 400 year period.  Of interest also are the marks of whakairo (carving) and raranga (weaving),  communicating ideas of time, location and direction.

Some researchers believe the waka Arai Te Uru beached at Matakaea (Shag Point), North Otago about 800 years ago.  Others say it existed only in the dimension of the spirit.  Preparing this work for exhibition touched unexpectedly into the frequency of testimony - the resonance of a truth told again;  about a people, a place and a time, lives with each telling.

With thanks to:

  • The International Learning Connexion (TLC) Wellington NZ
  • The Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hawaii
  • Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Wellington
  • The Ngai Tahu Fund
  • The Hocken Library - University of Otago
  • Te Runanga o Moeraki
  • The Forrester Gallery - Oamaru 
  • The Aigantighe Gallery, Timaru





Measuring Lines exhibition Arthur St. Cafe 4-12 April 2013 Timaru

1 March 2013

The exhibition title came from a dream in 2009 just after I moved to Timaru.  Prompted by that,  I started to make works but stalled shortly after for lack of art technique and understanding of the dream.  Months later  I came across a measuring line spoken about in the book of Zechariah 2.1 of the Bible.    The dream signalled some fairly radical changes that I'd make in my thinking over the years ahead of me.  Resolving these works as a point of focus, has been a slow layer by layer  process- not only towards completion but also about understanding  the bottom lines of my own faith.  The measuring lines really are the length and breadth of that.  

The Learning Connexion (Wellington) who I've  had an association with through the Department of Corrections and prison art programmes,  offered me a scholarship to paint in 2010.  Through this I have been able to go back to a starting point within my own art making process.  There was a major first year of stripping back, finding out that clean uncluttered lines and the deep transparency of colour would be for now,  the tools that would help me access and open out something of my own visual language.  They're mine for now. Finding and working with these two elements has without doubt helped complete the measuring line works -  the focus of the later part of the 2012  Diploma year.

The odd thing about painting / mark making and or translating and resolving ideas, is this -   if I  paint steadily each day, there's an unwrapping of new thinking;  new marks that progress the work.  These marks are usually always more than what I saw originally.  And it has to be this way.    If this factor of what I call living faith wasn't at work alongside my life and in the paintings and process, they would be too ordinary to show.   So the bottom line is this - these works reflect where I am right now, this is my news, straight off the press of my life, here and how, without apology.  Big thanks again to The Learning Connexion again and Juliette Whitley of the Arthur Street Cafe in Timaru.  The Cafe offers a relaxed and warm environment where people gather easily away from the more overt politic of arts spaces and audiences.  That's it for now.

Less is best, less is enough

4 November 2012The way I describe the art I make,  is better than the art I actually make - for now.  This past year has been one experiment after another and seemingly a million miles from the goals set at the beginning of the year to complete a series of works for exhibition by March April 2013 - "Measuring Lines".  These were works started in 2009 and 2010 that I simply didn't have enough experience in the can to complete confidently.   Somewhat surprisingly, I can see my way forward with them as a result of new techniques, new learning and the mentoring of Jess McCue at The Learning Connexion.  Their approach with me has been direction towards my own arts goals and to prompt, suggest and refer to the expertise and learning of so many others.  The learning has been a vital link in bringing the compelling, ever present stream of ideas up out of the waahi ngaro - the unseen place of the imagination and into the light of day ... literally.   More on that next month.  The little works and photographs posted here are lovely things that caught my eye in Melbourne.   Thank you, thank you TLC.  I'm really blessed to be doing what I love. 

New pathways ...

22 August 2012Last month I said 'I don't think art lies'.  I'm still there. Whenever I manipulate lines to fit my grid of understanding,  I run the risk losing something or interfering with something I haven't yet recognized, or is still emerging/arriving.   My 'adjustments' often show up in the finished work as just that - I can't hide them and can't live with them.  The trick might be to plan ahead as much as possible, keep the lines simple,  alive and minimise any additional fiddling. 

The starting place this month was the familiar semi circular lines' of moko wahine that I spent years making.  Then there was a switch to acrylics, to open skies,  horizons and semi circular,  over arching lines and  then the same lines - faster and freer in graphite and pastel.   I was startled by an unexpected reconciliation - new pathways in every day life and the work made.  

Reconciliation is also about meeting TLC assignments through my own frame of reference,  pushing out from known marks that pretty rapidly become mundane if I spend too long there,  and running headlong into the risks of being in new ground.  The red works are incomplete new paintings -  layerings of oil stick over acrylic... more to come on that.

Back to basics

26 June 2012I'm not sure that art lies ... I don't think it does.  The lines I make, however much I'm inspired to make them, 
still reveal where I actually am.   The things I see in my mind's eye that I want to make on canvas or paper, 
are a lot more compelling than what I produce.  Reducing the gap between these to points raises a question.
Can I expect to get better at reducing the distance between what I think and what I make.  I've returned to the basics of drawing this month.  There's a naivety about the work that's hard to look at.  The solution?  Keep on drawing and don't be looking too long in the mirror.     

Measuring lines

26 June 2012Measuring lines is the theme I'll explore in a number of ways,  throughout the coming year.   The idea was prompted by both a dream and a biblical reference in Zechariah 2. These small working notes (acrylic paint & oil stick on builder's paper) make reference to perceptible lines in the land,  sea and sky and the less perceptible measuring lines in human soul and spirit - the unseen landscape within.   The measuring lines in these works, mark, define, set apart and penetrate surface beliefs. While there appears to be a sense of undisturbed order in these works,  there must also be in future works,  a sense of a shift, of displacement, of discord,  as old thinking makes way for new.   


Moana Tipa: