Cultural connection appeals

Thursday 08 December 2016

Tessa Ma'auga

As a Chinese/European/American married to a Samoan, arts student Tessa Ma’auga is a celebration of diversity and it was an embracing of culture that led her to take on the Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts (BMVA) at Massey University. Mrs Ma’auga says she tried other art schools before settling on the Massey course. “I found other schools narrowly focused on Western art forms and didn’t seem to acknowledge other views.” 

Having attended a bilingual Māori Unit at school in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast, she says she felt very comfortable with a course that had a Māori perspective. “While we were taught from a Māori knowledge base we were also encouraged to look into our own cultural connections and I was able to draw on my Chinese heritage in my work.” 

She says each year the students were asked to focus on aspects of mana. “This was one of my favourite things about the course because I think it gives the art more meaning – we’re not just learning about the technical aspects.”  The 2016 focus was on mana wāhine (the mana of women).

Mrs Ma’auga’s installation for the final year exhibition Matatau16 at Te Manawa in Palmerston North demonstrates the threads of culture quite literally. It’s a traditional house shape created from thousands of metres of red thread. Ngā Aho (The Threads) not only speaks of whakapapa ties but represents the traditional connection of women, both Māori and Chinese, to houses on various levels – from the spiritual to the literal, including a pregnant woman’s body as a house for her unborn child. It took a week of painstaking threading to install the work into the gallery. 

The installation is among a diverse range of art pieces from BMVA students and Mrs Ma’auga says this shows how students were encouraged to develop their individual style.

Matatau16 is open until February at Te Manawa.