Bringing together raranga, the weaving work of nineteen master weavers from throughout Aotearoa, Te Puna Waiora: The Distinguished Weavers of Te Kāhui Whiritoi is a landmark exhibition from our most respected Māori weavers. Influential in their contribution to the vitality, history and current status and spirit of raranga, all are widely acknowledged officially and by their peers. The list of names including: Cath Brown, Whero o te Rangi Bailey, Te Aue Davis, Diggeress Rangituatahi Kanawa, Matekino Lawless, Eddie Maxwell, Saana Waitai Murray, Riria Smith, Toi Te Rito Maihi, Ranui Ngarimu, Reihana Parata, Connie Pewhairangi-Potae, Madeleine Sophie Tangohau, Mere Walker, Emily Rangitiaria Schuster, Pareaute Nathan, Sonia Snowden and Christina Hurihia Wirihana
As an exhibition in the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū’s programme, Te Puna Waiora is distinct in its ninety year history. Previously represented by six survey exhibitions of Māori art from 1966 to the present day, (beginning with New Zealand Māori Culture and the Contemporary Scene in 1966 and later Hiko! New energies in Māori Art in 1999), Te Puna Waiora is distinguished by the absence of its allegiance to Euro-centric arts practice. It breaks new ground in its attention to customary practice as central to the exhibition’s curation and its representation of objects more frequently displayed to date in museums rather than art galleries.
Curator Nathan Pōhio, (Kati Mamoe, Ngāi Tahu, Waitaha)directs his attention in Te Puna Waior: The Distinguished Weavers of Te Kāhui Whiritoi to the installation of an exhibition in which art and life are one, commenting in the publication accompanying: ‘For Maori, life is communal and so for the weavers, the community stands up.’ As a group exhibition it has few, if any, precedents in public galleries in Aotearoa and internationally.
Although Te Puna Waiora is a major survey exhibition that comes as a surprise for many, Pōhio confirms that it has been a work in progress for some time. ‘I had been looking at Māori art’s relationship to architecture and how Māori art is intrinsic to architecture. You look to the wharenui where you have the whakairo, (carving). Many mistake this for adornment and decoration but customarily they were structural, carved and then put in place to form the building from the get go. It was not a case of the building being built and then the carving done; this shifts how to consider Māori architecture in a customary sense as being closer to western ideas of art making – following the idea to then realise the form.’
‘Tukutuku panels are as much an architectural element as they are an artistic element and this led me to the gallery’s loan of the tukutuku panels from Tūranga Christchurch library’s Ngā Pounamu Māori collection.’ Pōhio recalls this as one of the jobs he was tasked with and that he and former senior curator, Lara Strongman would often discuss how to highlight Māori content within the gallery’s exhibition programme. ‘We observed, in particular, how travellers from overseas were enamoured by the tukutuku panels, and that led to conversations with Lara about “where do we want to go from here?”
Pōhio also acknowledges that the 2020 rehang of the public gallery’s permanent collection, Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania, as being about our place in Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean, provided a timely and appropriate model. ‘The connection between both Te Wheke and Te Puna Waiora is deliberate and one informs the other. Te Puna Waiora deepens that aspiration to bring Māori art into our programme further.’
‘We thought it would also be great, on the back of Te Wheke, to focus on the art practices of Māori women – specifically weaving. That idea was hovering in the air and coincidentally, just around that time I got a message from Paula Rigby, the chairperson of Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa, saying that the roopu, (group’s )35 year celebration was coming up and they would like to discuss the potential of an exhibition. The time frame was too tight for me but Lara said “hold on to this – don’t let it go”. I went back to Paula and said this project was too big for me to handle within the timeframes but we would really like to do something with you. Director Blair Jackson and staff were all on board. We just needed to work out what it was going to be.’
‘At a further meeting Paula come back with the firm proposal to celebrate Te Kāhui Whiritoi and its eminent weavers, every one of them a master in the field.’ This exhibition celebrates these senior weavers, who mostly learnt through observing their own seniors to uphold and maintain the art and integrity of raranga. These weavers in turn support their audience to learn through observation, their voices present within the exhibition texts, and the exhibition design conceived to uphold this intention.
‘It is a way to celebrate and recognise these senior māori women artists and acknowledge the significant contributions they have made to raranga whilst upholding the mana and integrity of a specific and important customary practice. For me an important part of my role is indigenising the gallery’s exhibition programme and culture of the institution, you can call this part of a de-colonialmethodologyand curatorial practice. I am constantly thinking of what is the tika (true) way to do this and consult with my Ngāi Tahu whānui each time to secure a kaupapa, pathway forward. What makes it possible still is the institutional aspirations supporting such actions to become manifest, Te Wheke and Te Puna Waiora reflect a progressive vision for Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū..’
One of the things I had to put aside, wasthe decision making about choosing works for the exhibition. The mana of these weavers is such, that I was guided by these individuals as to what they were going to show to show to represent them on their terms. I helped facilitate that but I simply couldn’t(and wouldn’t)make those decisions for them. That is part of what I mean by indigenising the curatorial practice as customary practice, recognizing my place before my elders and supporting their ideas and aspirations – the result would reflect the aspirations of the roopu, the group.
Pōhio also highlights the importance of the immediate experience of the works in Te Puna Waiora and the nature of their relationships with those who visit. ‘I think the exhibition points towards a distinguishing of “what the eye needs.” If you look at a kete by Christina Hurihia Wirihana, (Ngāti Maniapoto-Raukawa, Ngāti Whāwhākia, Taunui, Ngāti Pikiao, Te Arawa), they have everything that the eye needs. They are incredible to look at aesthetically but you also appreciate them in terms of the mahi, (the work) and incredible skill behind them and also the knowledge behind the design – a kete might be small but you sense theimmensity of its artistic and cultural depth. If you look at the cloak of Ta Tipene O’Regan or Ta Mark Solomon, you are movedprofoundly by Te Aue Davis’s beautiful and enveloping attention to intricate detail inboth these taonga; or the incredible detailing of Connie Pewhairangi. We at Te Puna o Waiwhetu are all so deeply honoured to present these stunning works by these master weavers. It has honestly been a labour of love by all the staff, I think this is evident in the exhibition content, the exhibition design and the book, which, marks the occasion into the future.
Designed byPaula Rigby,Aroha Atu, Aroha Mai is a tukutuku panel, the local one of five woven from around the country, with patterns of purapurawhetū and poutatama depicting the intergenerational transference of knowledge. ‘Aroha Atu, Aroha Mai comes into the public gallery’s collection, described by Pōhio as ‘to my knowledge, a first in terms of tukutuku panels enteringan art gallery collection. We will be Kaitiaki for these taonga from the collection of Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa.’
Among the work of other senior weavers in Te Puna Waiora are Cath Brown and Mere Walker. Cath Brown, (Ngāi Tahu – Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki 1933 – 2004) is of significance as the only Ngāi Tahu member included within the Tovey generation of practitioners(educationalist Gordon Tovey, 1901 – 1974 influential on the visual arts and art education in Aotearoa throughout the 1940s and 50s), introducing customary and contemporary Māori art into schools and homes. Mere Walker was born and raised at Waioeka pā in Ōpōtiki and is represented by a stunning kākahu and kete, her tukutuku panels also in the book.
As an exhibition of works that have fundamental value as both useful and aesthetic objects Pōhio emphasises the nature of the relationship these woven objects have with the vital state of Māori weaving in the 21st century, citing the importance of Dr Diggeress Rangituatahi Te Kanawa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Kinohaku, 1920 – 2009). ‘There is no differentiation between art and life within Māori society, everything is made a beautiful object, a cloak, a paddle, a fish hook, an anchor and reflects a harmonious relationship to nature. For weaving it used to be that you would only learn the weaving style and designs of your hapū, your village. Te Kanawa said “I am going to have to teach selected ones outside the village so that the customs do not die out.”
‘It is thanks to her (and her supporters at the time) that raranga has gathered the many hands around it to secure raranga into the future. To see wānanga established to teach raranga, and organisations such as Te Roopu Raranga Whatu o Aotearoa established as an organisational structure to maintain a secure future for raranga, and of course the formation of Te Kahui Whiritoi in order to acknowledge the senior weavers in a customary way. These things are all good reasons to hold this exhibition now that the future of raranga is secure – Paula set a course with Ranui’s formidable support to celebrate these weavers, Te Kahui Whiritoi.‘
Te Puna Waiora: The Distinguished Weavers of Te Kāhui Whiritoi
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū
Corner Worcester Blvd and Montreal Street
18 December – 3 April 2022
- Mere Walker, (Whakatōhea), Kete, 1995, Harakeke, non-traditional dye. Collection of Mere Walker, Kawerau
- Ōtautahi Weavers,Aroha Atu, Aroha Mai, from Parianate Tai Pīngao, kiekie, wood; purapurawhetū and poutama patterns. Collection of Te RoopuRarangaWhatu o Aotearoa