Dear Maori Art Student.

So I want to blog, separately and distinctly, to the korero I delivered as a part of my panel presentation at Toioho XX – the 20 year celebrations for Toioho Ki Apiti School of Maori Visual Art.  First of all – it was an absolute honor to be sharing the stage with Bridget Reweti, Huhana Smith and Charlotte Graham – wahine toa who have committed themselves to taiao through their art practices and narratives. I have huge respect for what they do and what they produce – aesthetically, philosophically and politically.


Bridget, myself, Huhana and Charlotte – Environmental Ministries, Preaching the Art. ToiohoXX.

I want to blog this kōrero, again, not only to reiterate some of the drivers behind my journey but because there were things that I didn’t actually get to say, on stage, that I think it’s important to say.

In particular – I have a couple of things I want to say to those of you studying Toi Māori.

Well, one thing really.


It was whakapapa that was invoked by Waziyatawin when I heard her say, back in 2013, that when the land is hurting, the people of the land will feel it first – and that the true tragedy of this lies in the fact that we, as indigenous people, have become complicit in this dilemma. I was reminded of my obligations to taiao that are visually represented in a whakapapa chart that we have up in our wharenui in Rangitukia, a chart that maps our family’s distinct connections to various insects, plants, sea mammals, and birds. I was reminded of our wharenui Taharora and the insects and plants holding place in our carved and painted pantheon alongside our ancestors. I was reminded of the whakapapa that I have worn in our korowai, our taniko, in our piupiu, and inked into my skin

It was whakapapa that the Mana o te Moana voyagers invoked in their incredible journey around the Pacific, calling upon the world to understand what we are doing to our ancestor and Atua, Tangaroa and Hinemoana and what we are doing to ourselves through them.

It was our whakapapa to Toroa that I was working on through a tukutuku panel at that time (of course the pattern was Roimata Toroa – the tears of the albatross). It was whakapapa that came crashing around my ears like a relentless storm surge when I came to understand what we, as a society, was doing to Toroa. What I, through my complicitness in these systems, was doing to Toroa.

It was my whakapapa – represented through the voices of my tipuna within our mahi toi – that spurred me into action.

It’s our whakapapa to the land, sky and sea that surrounds my students when we learn on the marae, and that same context that makes the wharenui the most logical space for teaching about the environment from a Māori perspective. It’s whakapapa speaking to us in these spaces… and although the message may vary, it will always underpin, ancestrally, our relationship, dependency, and obligations to taiao.

When I was in Japan, it was whakapapa that was so patently missing. I was in the middle of this conference, listening to the laments from every corner about the difficulty in integrating this idea that we are in an interdependent relationship with the environment around us. A relationship that holds obligations. I was already keenly aware of our own potential to guide that process when I went into the workshop on Arts Education and Sustainability.

This is where I need you to really pay attention. Don’t drift off or go check your facebook notifications.

You see – the environmental crises we face, as a planet – the global warming and global food shortage, the rising sea levels that are literally drowning our pacific cousins, the global water crisis, the pollution, the waste, the violent conflict that gets in the way of us even relating to each other let alone the common soil beneath our feet, the unprecedented loss of species. ALL of these issues have been known about for some time now… at least a couple of decades. And for all of our promises and efforts – we’re not even close to halting, or even slowing down, any of those issues. The status quo solution models are. not. working – and the consequences for that couldn’t be more dire.

We need divergent thinkers. Innovative solutions. Creative minds. We need people who can think outside of the box. We need those who can communicate across cultural and linguistic barriers.

We need artists.

Most importantly – we need people who can do all of this in a way that integrates and reminds us of our shared ancestral, spiritual and physical relationship to the environment.

We need indigenous artists.

We need you.

And so at this point I really want to know – what do you think you want to do with your art? With this amazing gift that has been passed down to you?

Do you want to hang it in a gallery? Make some money to make some more art to hang in more galleries?

Do you want to teach art? What will you teach your students? Will you teach them how to change the world with their voice?

Or will you teach them what a tree should like, or what a gallery might like a tree to look like? Or what other artists thought a tree looked like…

Because you absolutely have the capability to do so much more with your voice.

One of my most favorite Aunts once told me: “You are given your gift for the betterment of humankind. To not use it as such, is to the detriment of humankind”.

So again, I ask you – what do you plan to do with your gift?

Because humankind, and all other forms of life on this planet, require your gift – right now.

In this sense – Toioho Ki Apiti School of Maori Visual Arts at Massey really does hold a vital space in the landscape of innovative practice in indigenous art. It is a divergent, creative think tank – underpinned by the ancestral expressions of our whakapapa to our ancestors: human, ecological, and divine.

The Maori world is about whakapapa. Interconnectivity. It is the core principle of our existence. Toi Maori has a whakapapa and, as Papa Cliff Whiting pointed out in his plenary speech – it is spiritual, and ancestral, it extends beyond human ancestors and out to the universe around us and these facets can NEVER be overlooked or neglected.


Papa Cliff Whiting speaking to the centrality of spirituality within Maori Art – ToiohoXX

And so I will ask you one final time – what will you do, as a Maori artist – with the vital gifts and talents that the world needs right now? The answer may lie in your conscientious choice of materials, in your process, in your kaupapa, or in a combination of any or all of these things.

But the very least – the VERY least I need to you know, right now – is your absolute potential to forge vital change. The MOST vital of changes. Don’t let anyone tell you that mahi toi is any less than this.

Make no mistake. This is a call to arms for Papatuanuku – without whom we will have no other plight to fight for.

Step up.



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