Ngai Tahu contemporary visual arts

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu 1997 – 2001
Role:  Arts facilitator / co-ordinator / curator / writer / researcher

The entreaty between Ngai Tahu and the Crown that had spanned some 131 years since 1866, was formally settled in 1997.  The time immediately leading up to and post Settlement was powerful for those of us who were returning to live amongst Ngai Tahu. There was a pervasive sense of new life and possibility, a sense of coming forward, of being seen, of no longer being ghosts in our own lands. For whanau and hapu who had for generations upheld traditional and cultural arts practices, knowledge was out-pouring. It was strengthening, revitalizing and restorative. Old knowledge and values had new relevance.

It was into this setting in 1998 that Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu through its newly established Ngai Tahu Development Corporation would present a small exhibition of the contemporary visual art of established Ngai Tahu artists.

 The exhibition Tino Rakatirataka Kai Tahu 1998 at Te Matauranga Maori (Christchurch Poytechnic) generated enough tribal and public interest for The Christchurch Arts Festival to invite Ngai Tahu participation in festival season following.

Christchurch Arts Festival

Christchurch Arts Festival 1999 in A\association with
Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu, presented Rukutia! Rukutia!
An exhibition of southern Maori contemporary visual art,
21 July - 8 August 1999
Role: Co-ordinator / curator

'Kaua e waiho ki te mahaka harakeke kia uaina e te ua, kia whitikia e te ra pakapaka, kia puhia e te hau ka motu. Ekari, waiho ki te mahaka ti, mahaka whitau, kia uaina e te ua, kia whitikia e te ra pakapaka, kia puhia e te hau, e kore e mutu.'

'Do not leave it to a snare made from undressed flax to be rained on, beaten by the sun and blown by the wind.  But instead make it from the ti or from the whitau so that it may be rained on, beaten by the sun, blown by the wind and never be broken!'

 The exhibition drew its name from a feminine entity, Rukutia, who in mythology was  linked with Tama and Tu-te-koropaka in stories of Kai Tahu origin.  Associated with moko, pounamu and raranga, Rukutia was also acknowledged as an expert in dance arts. 

Featuring the work of over fifty artists in nine venues across the city, the exhibition honoured some of the Tovey ‘first generation’ of Maori artists who upheld and explored contemporary Maori art in their own practices, and supported and developed emerging Maori artists to do the same;   Sandy Adsett, Cath Brown, Clive Arlidge and Marilyn Webb.  

Rukutia! Rukutia! celebrated the undisturbed contemporary language of Kai Tahu artists who had often worked in isolation from one another and from iwi.  It drew attention to the vulnerability of traditional Maori arts practices – the putake or base from which the contemporary Maori art forms would take expression.

The works exhibited covered a range of disciplines including raranga (weaving) whakairo (carving) installation, paint, sculpture, ceramics, photography and video installation.

Exhibits were shown at nine venues across the central city;   the foyers of The Heritage, The OGB,  Parkroyal, The Millenium, Rydges, The Centra, The George and Chateau on the Park. The main venue however, was the new and spacious Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu Board Room on the ground floor of Te Waipounamu House on Hereford Street.  

Some of the artists included Jacqueline Fraser (Benediction of Goat Island our Saviour),  Peter Robinson (I Know Nothing),  Chris Heaphy (Rites of Passage), Fiona Pardington (Beloved & the King is Coming), Areta Wilkinson (Wahine & Tane), Neil Pardington (Gate),  Ross Hemera (Whakahangahanga-a-bird-in-a-cage) Simon Kaan (Ahu Ahu Beach), Jennifer Rendall (Untitled), Debbi Thyne (Atea I II and III & Tuku Iho), Fayne Robinson (Whakairo), Turi Gibb (Waitaiki), Grace Voller (Kaitiaki), Christine Harvey (Papa Kainga), Otene Rakena (Hei Piko),  Priscilla Cowie (Te Whaea), Beverley Rhodes (Shadows:  The Tenths)

Aukaha Kia Kaha (strengthen the bindings)

The inaugural Kai Tahu Arts Festival,  Dunedin
29 September – 1 October 2000
Role: Facilitator / developer

The Inaugural Kai Tahu Arts Festival was presented by Te Runanga o Moeraki, Kati Huirapa Runanga ki Puketeraki and Te Runanga Otakou in association with Ngai Tahu Development Corporation.  

The festival was of significant historical importance for Kai Tahu.  It was a celebration of the renaissance of traditional arts practices as well as a showcase of contemporary arts taking place at that time amongst iwi.

The theme of the festival ‘Aukaha Kia Kaha (Strengthen the bindings) was taken from the whakatauki ‘Aukaha kia kaha i kaa kaha o Arai Te Uru’;  Strengthen and reinforce the lashings of the waka Arai Te Uru, a kaupapa recognized as a unifying influence for the southern rohe.

Festival components included wanaka (seminars) about  whakapapa (genealogies), kaumatua stories and archiving, whaikorero (oratory), karaka (ceremonial calling), mau taiaha (martial arts), whakairo (carving), raraka (weaving), ta moko (traditional body art), contemporary waiata (song), dance and writing.  

Other components were a Po Whakakahau (concert) over two nights,  two visual arts exhibitions and Kai Tahu contemporary theatre production.

Three elements of the Kai Tahu Festival would enter the Otago Festival of the Arts in its season from 6 – 15 October, 2000.  They were the visual arts exhibitions ‘Ka Puta Mai’ at the Logan Park Art Gallery and ‘Aukaha Kia Kaha, Strengthen the bindings of the Land, Of the People, Of the Soul)’ at the Dunedin Pubic Art Gallery. ‘The Space Within’, a contemporary Kai Tahu theatre production was presented at Fortune Theatre.  The storyline by Rua McCallum, focused on the position and place of ancient knowledge in the lives of everyday Kai Tahu youth, Dramaturgy was by Simon O’Connor and the work was directed by Martin Phelan.

Aukaha Kia Kaha

"Strengthen the Bindings
of the Earth, of the People,
of the Soul" An exhibition of contemporary Maori art, 
Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Kai Tahu Festival Season 29 September – 1 October 2000
Otago Festival of the Arts 7 October – 8 November 2000
Role: Facilitator

The exhibition was curated by Megan Tamati Quennell while she was on parental leave from her role as Curator Indigenous Maori at Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.  The work was the second contemporary visual art exhibition to be initiated by Ngai Tahu Development Corporation. This work followed on from the 1999 Christchurch Arts Festival Rukutia Rukutia exhibition of southern Maori Art.

Aukaha Kia Kaha was commissioned as part of the Kai Tahu Arts Festival held in Dunedin September 29 until October 1st and the Otago Festival of the Arts (7th October – 8th November 2000.

Curator Megan Tamati-Quennell writes:

‘Aukaha Kia Kaha presents the works of 14 Kai Tahu artists and attempts to highlight Kai Tahutaka through the work shown, and the whakapapa relationships which bind the artists together. Interpreted as ‘bringing the past forward’, Aukaha Kia Kaha is based on ideas about identity and uses the cultural redress aspect of the 1997 Crown Settlement Offer made to Ngai Tahu – a contemporary and pivotal event within Kai Tahu history – as a reference point for the show.

'Aukaha Kia Kaha is an opportunity to celebrate the creative energy of Kai Tahu visual artists and practitioners – their unique talents and ideas, their practices, concerns and visions – as individuals as well as iwi Kai Tahu. Each artist has a distinct style, strength and expression. Many make reference to their Kai Tahu heritage within their work literally or abstractly. Some, like Ross Hemera have drawn inspiration from Kai Tahu forms. Others like Graham Metzger have continued Kai Tahu practice within a cultural context – creating taoka including poha, mokihi, kete and kete whakairo for the exhibition. Others such as Otene Rakena, with his taoka pounamu, have used materials specific to Kai Tahu. Contemporary jeweler Areta Wilkinson talks about restoration, regeneration and healing within her work. The works of others express the relationship of land and whakapapa, injustices of the past and promises of the future. Jacqueline Fraser places the jewel in the crown within her work, Te Waipounamu; The Burial of Our People, created specifically for the opening of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1996. It featured on the large entrance wall of the gallery with Ko Aoraki Te Maunga installed within the exhibition’.

Artists are Cath Brown, Ewan Duff, Jacqueline Fraser, Ross Hemera, Simon Kaan, Heeni Kerekere, Graham Metzger, Huhana Morgan, Fiona Pardington, Otene Rakena, Jenny Rendall, Peter Robinson, Keri Whaitiri, Areta Wilkinson.

Ka Puta Mai

Kai Tahu Festival Season 29 September – 1 October 2000
Otago Festival of the Arts Sept 29 – 10 Nov 2000
Logan Park Art Gallery Dunedin
Role: Facilitator

Ka Puta Mai was an exhibition of Kai Tahu artists based on the concept of tuakana teina (the young bening nurtured by those older). The exhibition celebrates the emergence of Kai Tahutaka through contemporary and traditional visual artists.

Curated by Simon Kaan, the Logan Park Art Gallery in Dunedin opened its doors for the last time to host two exhibitions of work as part of the Otago Festival of the Arts. Ka Puta Mai – a time to emerge, a time to be seen was one of those. It featured the works of 29 Kai Tahu artists; Florence Reiri, Nathan Pohio, Rachael Rakena, Fayne Robinson, Beverly Rhodes, Matt Calman, Priscilla Cowie, Janina Dell, Kirsten Kemp, Leila Goddard, Hana Rakena, Sandra Kellian, Alan Hope, Paul Bradford, Karl Hart, Jane Unaiki Burns, Leila Goddard, Phyllis Smith, Brett Tamati Elliffe, Baden French, Tai Kerere, Simone Montgomery, Nicola Robinson, Phyllis Smith, Amber Bridgeman, Alan Hope, Matiu Payne, James York and Anna Robinson.

The Space Within

Contemporary Maori theatre
Kai Tahu Festival Season 30 September 2000
Otago Festival of the Arts 3 – 15 October 2000
Fortune Theatre, Dunedin.
Role: Facilitator

The haunting sound-track of puoro Maori was overlaid with the recorded names of tipuna who survived the beaching of the Arai Te Uru waka at Maeakaea (near Shag Point). The whakapapa was recorded from the records of Joseph Tipa, at Moeraki in about 1890.

It was this sound that greeted patrons as they entered the foyer of Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre. On the walls surrounding the stage, the hills of Otago - to the north and south were drawn in chalk and named with the 170 surviving tipuna of the waka Arai Te Uru. The hills, rivers and significant places in the landscape between Kaitangata and Kaikoura continue to be known by these names today, although knowledge of those whakapapa and histories are largely forgotten.

The storyline for the contemporary Kai Tahu theatre production was written by Rua McCallum with dramaturgy by Simon O’Connor. The work was directed by Martin Phelan.

Paritea loved Oraumoa who loved someone else. And what would Shakespeare have in common with the waka Arai Te Uru? The devised contemporary production focused on the role of ancient knowledge in the lives of youth today.

Pounamu Ngai Tahu

Venice Biennale
Italy June 2001
Role: Project Manager

Prime Minister, Helen Clark in her role as Minister of Culture and Heritage, played a key role in brokering the Government to Government invitation for contemporary New Zealand art to be included in the oldest and most esteemed international visual arts event, the Venice Biennale of Art. 

The drive to see New Zealand art showcased at this prestigious event had been led for some time previously, by Creative New Zealand. Held once every two years over a five-month period, the Venice Biennale of Art attracted thousands of the world’s most influential artists, curators, critics and collectors.

The artists chosen to represent New Zealand’s entry into this event were Jacqueline Fraser and Peter Robinson, both of Ngai Tahu descent. 

Arts Board Chair Christopher Finlayson said the exposure of New Zealand art at Venice would have major, long-term benefits for visual artists and for New Zealand. 

“No other visual arts event in the world captures the attention and audiences that Venice does,” Mr Finlayson said “This is the first time that New Zealand has been invited to take part. We have just received the official invitation from the Biennale authorities on behalf of the Government of Italy.”

In response to the inclusion of Ngai Tahu artists as New Zealand’s contemporary visual artists in the illustrious event, Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu 
sent a kapa haka delegation (Pounamu Ngai Tahu) in support of the artists.

Kaiwhakahaere, Mark Solomon would describe the role of Pounamu Kai Tahu as a korowai (a spiritual cloak) or covering for the group.

Maria Tini of Ngai Tahu led a party of 16 performers who performed elements of karakia (prayer), korero purakau (legend), moteatea (ancient prose) as well as a contemporary presentation of haka, poi and actions songs.

A dawn ceremonial performance in St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) on June 7th startled Venetian audiences and caused Biennale organizers to call for the Pounamu Kai Tahu to open the Danze Section of the Performing Arts Programme at the 1200 seat Teatre Verde 9th and 10th June.

International media response to Pounamu Kai Tahu was overwhelming with hundreds of multi-media reports filed by many of the 65 nations participating.

Haumie E!, Hui E!, Taiki E!

Christchurch Arts Festival
July 18 - August 5, 2001
Role: Facilitator / writer

Haumie E!, Hui E!, Taiki E! was the second collaboration between the Christchurch Arts Festival and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.  It  called for people to rally, to gather and to stand firm.  It was a relevant title for the joining of pakeha and Maori together to present works to festival arts audiences.

Curator Megan Tamati-Quennell wrote:  ‘The exhibition centred on the idea of whanau and whanaungatanga, with the work of the 15 Ngai Tahu artists looking at the relationship between artist, individual and iwi.  

The names of five important tipuna were given by the host Papatipu Runanga;  Te Rangiwhakaputa, Te Ruahikihiki, Huikai, Teake and Tahumataa.  Each tipuna anchored the ideas presented, they drew the artists together, allowed them to be positioned in the local landscape and involved in the broader Ngai Tahu whakapapa from which they took descent.

‘The theme of whanaungatanga operated on both a conceptual and pragmatic level.  A brother and sister exhibited together, a father and daughter, cousins with cousins, Aunties with nieces and nephews and a Taua acknowledged the support of her daughter.  Although bound by whakapapa, each artist presented an individual response.  There was no ‘iwi style’, each artist had a distinct voice and form of expression, uniquely their own.

Artists were:  Cath Brown, Matt Calman, Chris Heaphy, Simon Kaan, Kirsten Kemp, Ranui Ngarimu, Reihana Parata, Fiona Pardington, Neil Pardington, Nathan Pohio, Rachael Rakena, Otene Rakena, Florence Reiri, Jennifer Rendall, Areta Wilkinson.

The host Papatipu Runanga of Canterbury were:  Ngai Tuahuriri, Koukourarata, Taumutu, Onuku, Wairewa and Rapaki.

Akona ki nga rekereke

"Learning from the Knee"
an exhibition of contemporary Ngai Tahu art
Burrinja, Dandenong Ranges,
Community Cultural Centre, Victoria, Australia 
February 24 – April  30, 2006
Role:  Writer

The Akona ki Nga rekereke – Learning from the Knee an exhibition by Ngai Tahu artists, was the response of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu to the ‘Footprint of the Spirits’ – The Burrinja Collection exhibition which toured to seven galleries throughout Te Waipounamu (the South Island) in 2002 and 2003.

The exhibition was a partnership between Burrinja Dandenong Ranges Community Cultural Centre, the Mayor of Shire of Yarra, Victoria, The Mayor of Christchurch, Principals – Professional Art Services of Canterbury, and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu.

The expression learning from the knee was not often heard. The term surfaced in a Ngai Tahu arts hui months prior to the exhibition and took hold as a point of discussion amongst some of the artists.

Borrowed from European tradition and thinking, it suggested learning passed on or handed down – from elders to youth, from parents to children.
In any culture, the passing on of knowledge and skill sat at the heart of family, however obscured by the pace of life and fingertip technology.

In indigenous tradition, the imparting of knowledge and practical skills to younger generations was a matter of survival, life or death. In Maori society, the term taonga i tuku iho (gifts handed down) referred to innate knowledge, in-born through whakapapa as well as skills learned.

The living reality of taonga i tuku iho, however, was underpinned by wairua (spirit) that was recognizable, tangible, and something to be experienced and felt. Alongside that, there was likely to be a sense of vision, a need for order, as well as the accompanying sense of responsibility to nurture, the taonga in others.

Taonga i tuku iho was part of an ancient and natural order, a continuum that showed up in the tracings of tipuna; in the landscape, in one another, the way we thought and did things as Maori. The notion of learning from the knee connected to this.

The title of the exhibition aligned with the thinking and work of the artists. Fiona Pardington’s work, Tai Whatiwhati was rich in its suggestion of a colonizing tide; breaking, shattering and coming together again. Ross Hemera’s rock art images gathered at the knee of his father when he was eight years old, now emerged in his work.

Nathan Pohio presented quirky, revisionist, post colonial ideas while Areta Wilkinson’s work was visible evidence of a transfer between a taua (grandmother) and mokopuna (grand-daughter).

Learning continued and presented itself via many knees, formally and informally often randomly, on the wing, in passing, from left field, or unexpectedly in a spontaneous moment.

Much was left to the institutions of learning, to wananga, archives and libraries. Much was guarded, measured and exchanged or traded for different gain. Much was forgotten.

In this context, the term learning from the knee suggested learning not measured or marketed, learning not readily accessible or custom built, learning that was neither bought nor owned; learning that was not so much taught as caught by the creative imagination and by the spirit.

Artists: Otene Rakena & Rachael Rakena, (Te Herenga Pounamu) Hana Rakena (Whakaraupo), Ross Hemera (Hokiwai and Tiki-Manu), James York (Kaika), Fiona Pardington (Tai Whatiwhati), Jenny Rendall, Ranui Ngarimu, Lonnie Hutchinson, Nathan Kahupatiti Pohio, Areta Wilkinson, Simon Kaan, Neil Pardington, Fayne Robinson.

Te Hokinga Mai

Mo Tatou: The Ngai Tahu Whanui Exhibition from Te Papa Tongarewa &
Mo Ka Uri:  Taonga from Canterbury Museum
20 February – 20 June 2010
Role:  Writer  (Mo Ka Uri)

‘The landmark Ngai Tahu Whanui exhibition endeavored to reflect the values, traditions and aspirations of the iwi.

‘For three years,  Mo Tatou: The Ngai Tahu Whanui Exhibition presented within the galleries of Te Papa in Wellington much of the enduring strength and nature of the southern iwi Ngai Tahu.

In 2010, Mo Tatou: The Ngai Tahu Whanui Exhibition would begin a homecoming journey through Te Waipounamu - Canterbury, Southland and Otago.

The exhibition was renamed Te Hokinga Mai as it arrived to commence it’s southern journey at the Canterbury Museum. In turn Canterbury Museum in partnership with Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu and the iwi’s northern Papatipu Runanga, produced a parallel exhibition to welcome and complement Mo Tatou. This would be ‘Mo Ka Uri’

Mo Ka Uri” Taonga from Canterbury Museum presented taonga that had never been exhibited, or much less seen by the families who made the connection through whakapapa to many of the objects. Over 200 taonga objects demonstrated relationship between ancestor and descendant.

Located within the Robert McDougall Gallery at Canterbury Museum, the two exhibitions combined to create a viewing window into a people whose spirit revealed innovation, resilience, and perseverance.


Moana Tipa: