He Rerenga Toroa

I’m on my way home now, from an amazing week of workshops, panel talks and presentations. I’m at once exhausted and exhilarated; my tinana is drained but my manawa is filled, and renewed.

The week started with a trip down to Hongoeka Marae, a good five hours south of Gisborne – to support the Conscious Roots Festival.


A weekend of healing, of food sovereignty and healthy food systems, of ecologically centred housing and community systems, alternative energy workshops, performance and sound therapy, ancestral taonga puoro workshops… and into this beautiful space, I was invited to offer my musings on going plastic-free.  This is the home of Ngati Kimihia, Ngati Te Maunu and Ngati Haumia of Ngati Toa Rangatira. I have some whanau there, and a few friends as well – and it was wonderful to sit there on the mahau of their wharenui and discuss the dreams, hopes and various challenges they are facing on their journey to independence, and self-sufficiency, and wellbeing. Wiremu Grace, if you are reading this – your passion, and conviction, to move to ever more conscious ways of being in this world, in a way that honours the land we are on, and who we are and who we come from – well there is no greater or more honourable commitment in my books – kia kaha ra e te whanaunga.

I then spent a number of days at the NZ Political Studies 2015 Conference at Massey University –mixing with political scientists, educators, students and theorists, and thankfully more than a few people who bridge that space into practice as well. Veronica Tawhai developed a stream of Māori relevant workshops and panels that really was engaging for all backgrounds. The highlight for me was, without a doubt, the workshop delivered by Matike Mai Youth Group for Constitutional Transformation.

Karena Karauria, Kelly Harrison, Veronica Tawhai, Richard Shaw, Nga Rauuira Puumanawawhiti schooling us all on how to engage with constitutional transformation.

It healed me, in another way, to see rangatahi so passionate to engaging with systems that can forge a better future for themselves. They completely redefined the space and taught EVERYONE what effective engagement looked like.  My heart was filled with pride watching them weave their magic, filled with hope and conviction, articulating, so very clearly, their expectations and intentions. It was also, for me, a deeply emotional experience as I considered the many rangatahi that are not with us today, who are experiencing the other end of the spectrum… the desolation and despair and lack of hope for a bright future. There are too many, there have been too many, and we are carrying this heavily right now. So to see this inspiring, enlivening, passionate work BY youth – it healed me. I was reminded of our Nanny Tuini Ngawai, sitting on a hill, contemplative of this ever changing world, what it means for the ways of her ancestors, for our kind, and for the youth, moving ahead into the future. I’m so sure, that were she there in that room it would have filled her with pride too.

Wednesday evening, I popped over to work with an awesome whanau group who are looking to engage with their waterways. In the drizzly rain, we stood there, brushing macroinvertebrates from rocks, checking water clarity, measuring ph levels, talking about the development of monitoring programs. These whanau were all there in their own time, at the invite of their whanaunga Reuben, not having engaged in this space before but understanding that there is no time like now to get involved, to take those first steps around growing their capacity – and that it may be aimed at something authoritative at some point, but for now it’s about getting in touch with their waterways and being involved in the wellbeing of their waterways. There were about a dozen there and honestly – these are moments that also make my heart sing… not just because I’m outside, in an awa rather than between four walls… but also because there are a whole DOZEN whanau members there, interested and engaged and passionate for all the right reasons. That’s huge.

A few meetings on Thursday, and then, on Friday, it was the kick off for the 20 year celebration of my alma mater – Toioho Ki Apiti, School of Maori Arts at Massey University, Palmerston North. Over 2 days, we celebrated the incredible journey of this school, from it’s inception, and the first group of students who included inspirational practitioners such as Huhana Smith and Charlotte Graham.

Exhibitions ran over 6 venues that included work from over 40 graduates and staff including Rangi Kipa, Ngahina Hohaia, current head of school Ngatai Taepa, Israel Tangaroa Birch, Shane Cotton, Kura Te Waru Rewiri, Simon Kaan, Areta Wilkinson, Steve Gibbs, Priscilla Cowie, Rachael Rakena, Tawera Tahuri, Reuben Friend, Tina Wirihana, Aimee Ratana, Erena Baker, Martin Langdon, Reweti Arapere, Hemi MacGregor… and the super impressive installation work done by the art collective Taipō – Bridget Reweti, Terri Te Tau and Rongomaiaia Te Whaiti. A visual and cognitive hakari laid out across the urban landscape of Papaioea.  On day 2, the Palmerston North Convention Center was the venue for the Toioho XX Symposium, where creators, curators, teachers, students, and lovers of art gathered to share discussions, through panel presentations and plenaries, on the past twenty years (and often beyond that), the current state of affairs, and the potential future of Māori Art here in Aotearoa, and abroad.

We were blessed, really blessed, to enjoy a panel discussion by those who have really forged the path for contemporary Maori art in Aotearoa – Marilyn Webb, Sandy Adsett, Cliff Whiting, Clive Arlidge, Fred Graham – all offering their reflections on the “Pine Taiapa” period – the time where Pine, and Gordon Tovey, together nurtured and ushered a new generation of artists, a new culture of pushing boundaries, of visual innovation, of ways that allowed us to be, and do, and create, that reflected our colonized realities, our ancestral underpinnings, our individual experiences of this world, our collective, and interactive voices and concerns. These titans of the Maori art world, whose names are heard from school years and whose artworks are pored over in books as we progress in learning the whakapapa of contemporary Māori art – were all manifest in front of us – human and humorous, and angry, and cheeky, retelling stories of mischief from this incredibly definitive era. This was, without a doubt, one of the most special experiences of my life that I will never forget.

12295372_10154142730851754_8980492249123536076_nThere were plenaries on the whakapapa of art, and the systemic conflicts between Maori art and Western art systems – there panel presentations on the history of the school, on the pursuit of mana through contemporary Māori art, and on collaborative processes and practices. All of them were moving, and inspiring, and invigorating – this was, without a doubt, the very best symposium I have ever attended. Seeing my academic whanau again, my classmates, my kaiako, those who nurtured me into the critical rantypants that I am…. THAT was heartwarming.

I’m going to write a bit more on the session that I took part in, in a moment, as a separate post but I wanted to sign this post off with a mihi to the man that really is responsible for this weekend being everything that it was.

Robert Jahnke began delivering Māori visual arts at Massey in 1995 along with Shane Cotton. Along the way he has worked with a formidable team of innovative and thoughtful Māori art educators such as Kura Te Waru Rewiri, Rangi Kipa, Brett Graham, Rachael Rakena, Ngātai Taepa, Saffron Te Ratana and Israel Tangaroa Birch. The calibre of artists and curators that have graduated from the BMVA and MMVA programs, many of whom are operating at the pinnacle of their fields today, who were all present at this reunion and symposium, really does speak to the amazing work and contribution that Professor Jahnke has offered the New Zealand art world. I was humbled to even just be in the room with most of them.  No doubt everyone has their reflections of him as their mentor, guide and teacher, but here are mine.

I remember, one evening, Bob telling me that he doesn’t see himself as an artist first and foremost – but as an art educator who is fortunate to also be able to create art himself. This surprised the socks off me because before meeting him I had always idolised the man as an artist, and had considered it a stroke of luck that he was also teaching and that I could enrol to learn under him.  I recall Bob as a guide on a learning process that gradually and gently unfolded each of us, like complex origami pieces, back to a form where we could critically examine the lines and folds of our history and political realities… and then empowering us to then reassemble ourselves, replete with our knowing of the processes that have gone into who we are. In this process we are politicised, we become charged with purpose, with critical confidence and self-awareness, with strong voices, with a passionate sense of enquiry and a bold willingness to challenge assumptions – and we are (and this is so important and was reiterated by Marilyn Webb) – supported to be WHO WE ARE.

Everything about this journey, if you have followed it from the early days, was earthed in my ancestral relationship to taiao, in my acute critical awareness of the role that Toroa, and taiao, plays in my world, AS IT MANIFESTS THROUGH OUR ART – it is earthed in my refusal to believe that it has to be this way and a passion to use my voice to give back to taiao.

For this, and for so much more – the trips to Waipiro Bay, the incredibly generous sharing of your time, support, and wisdom, the robust debates, the way in which you have guided our waka to Hawaiiki and back, your love and support for all of your students and their babies – kore e mutu aku mihi aroha ki a koe, e te rangatira.


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