Māori visual arts graduates exhibit in Canada

The collective in front of Aka at the national Gallery of Canada. Photo by Paul Elter, National Gallery of Canada.

The collective in front of Aka at the national Gallery of Canada. Photo by Paul Elter, National Gallery of Canada.

An artist collective comprised of Whiti o Rehua School of Art alumnae are currently exhibiting an artwork in a ground-breaking international exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada.

The Mata Aho Collective is a group of four Māori women artists who produce large scale fibre based works and work with a single collective authorship.

The artists are lecturer at Toioho ki Āpiti Māori visual arts, Erena Baker, of Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai and Ngāti Toa Rangātira, Toioho ki Āpiti graduates Bridget Reweti, of Ngāti Ranginui and Ngāi Te Rangi, and Sarah Hudson, of Ngāti Awa and Ngāi Tūhoe, and Whiti o Rehua School of Art graduate Terri Te Tau, of Rangitāne ki Wairarapa.

The collective was invited by the gallery to submit a proposal for a site-specific installation in the Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel, exhibition, which features work from contemporary indigenous artists around the world.

AKA is a 14m high hand-woven work made from 25mm thick marine rope, situated in the rotunda of the gallery. It was described by New York Times art critic Ian Austen as “worth the globe-spanning effort. Their sculpture is spectacular”.  

The collective says, “AKA, from the Māori word vine is inspired by the narrative of the female deity Whaitiri, the personification of thunder. Combining customary whatu (finger twining) practice and modern materials, this vine provides a space for contemplation and invites the viewers eyes to journey upwards, to a place of raised consciousness.”

The collective say the attending the exhibition opening in Ottawa was the perfect opportunity to see the work of cutting edge contemporary indigenous artists from around the world. “We were able to connect, share common experiences and celebrate a moment where indigenous people and our stories were occupying space in such a prestigious art institution.”

AKA, a tall column of woven marine rope

Mata Aho Collective formed after a series of wānanga for artists and activists in 2011. “After getting lost in kōrero about Māori Maidens, critical art theory, mana wāhine and moon phases; we hatched plans to collaborate.

“Our first major project was the Enjoy Summer Residency Programme in Wellington, where we created the work Te Whare Pora (2012) at The Adam Gallery Te Pātaka Toi as part of their 20 year anniversary exhibition.”

The artists say that working as a collective gives them “strength in our collective authorship. Our aim is to construct projects in such a way that it isn’t possible to tell who has contributed which part and often we can’t tell either.

“We have a shared responsibility in producing the best quality work we can and through this are able to create large-scale art works that we would not be able to achieve individually. Throughout indigenous art histories, especially women’s practices, this is not a new concept.

“The second thing that brought us to work together is that we find comfort in navigating art institutions, together. Bringing our art, which is founded in mātauranga Māori, into a Western cultural construct, the gallery, can sometimes be a very curious exchange. We don’t have art dealers or managers but instead we support each other in striving for the best representation of our work.”

They credit Toioho ki Āpiti as giving them a foundation of visual arts practice. “It helped us to see the relevance of mātauranga Māori in the work we create for the current contemporary art landscape and to push for innovation within our work.

“Māori have always been innovative in terms of developing art practices. Just as our tīpuna were exciting about incorporating wool into tāniko or using steel chisels, we get excited about investigating how different materials work and what stories they can tell.”

The collective has recently returned from a trip to Brisbane where their work Kikomoana is being exhibited at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. 

Mata Aho Collective have a new artwork, in collaboration with Andre Te Hira, And only sea wrapping the hoarding of the Wellington Central Library and is a celebration of the work of J.C. Sturm, a poet who worked as a librarian at the Central Library for over 20 years.

More Alumni stories

Te Ara Toroa — Rere Ki Uta, Rere Ki Tai
The flight of the albatross — Venturing into the unknown
Design by Ngataiharuru Taepa, Kaihautu Toi Māori—Director of Māori Arts

Toi Rauwhārangi
College of Creative Arts
Wellington, Aotearoa