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Aaron Kereopa At Toi O Tahuna Gallery


Aaron Kereopa At Toi O Tahuna Gallery

Toi o Tahuna fine art gallery will be holding an exhibition in their Church Lane gallery showcasing new work by Aaron Kereopa.

Aaron Kereopa’s work stand out for its’ intricate Polynesian designs and the bold texturing of colour and design. He uses surfboard foam blanks as a medium, substituting knife and scalpel in place of chisel and hammer, paint in place of varnish. Aaron Kereopa’s work fuses ideas of traditional whakairo (the art of carving) with a contemporary art practice. This allows him the freedom to take whakairo in a new direction and create his own style of carving.

Aaron’s interest in carving and design dates back to his high school days at Wesley College, a boarding school in Auckland that emphasised the importance of culture to its students, many of whom hailed from Pacific backgrounds. Here he developed interests in ta moko (tattoo), kapa haka (performance) and te reo (language), and became a member of a waka taua (war canoe) group, travelling to Canada and Hawaii as a representative of his school, the Māori Queen and Tainui, his tribe. In 1985, the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was bombed in Auckland harbour, sparking a new wave of anti-nuclear protest across New Zealand. Aaron was living with on his family land in Raglan at the time when he saw a foam blank carved with an anti- nuclear protest message by fellow surfer Kevin Barker.

Inspired and wishing to express his ‘screaming silent voice’, Aaron took up some old broken surf boards and began to experiment with the koru, or spiral form, initially using a kitchen knife and spoon to carve out the foam. He shortly realised that the same techniques applied to carving wood could be used with the foam if he used different tools, with a cutting rather than chiselling action. Initially hesitant to explore this form of carving, given the respect with which Māori treat whakairo and the rules that have come to be associated with the art form, Aaron has grown confident over time about his work and his ability to take it forward. ‘A good thing about our people’ he says, ‘in the past they learnt how to adapt and move with the times. I’m just doing the same thing’.

Like ta moko and whakairo, Aaron’s work utilises a visual language that acts as a code, drawing on themes both universal and personal such as mythology, geography, his tupuna (ancestors), whakapapa (genealogy), and navigation. His works also included elements of popular culture, surf culture, comics and they also show a affinity with a larger pan-pacific culture. Aaron is especially inspired by the underlying similaritlies between Maori and Hawaiian cultures.

Although those familiar with Māori design can read some of the imagery, much of the work has personal references, such as to Manu Bay, the surf beach over which Aaron’s studio looks, and Karioi, the neighbouring mountain, which has a specific relationship with local Māori. Living in this area of Raglan has allowed Aaron to reinforce his Tainui roots and develop different interpretations of traditional ideas and to put his own stance on traditional designs and meanings. Aaron also often integrates patterns he sees in his mother’s fibre work as a weaver of kete (bags), whariki (mats) and potae hats, each with the underlying message of the significance of culture. ‘I believe each Māori person, or person who thinks they are Māori, has a responsibility to carry on what our people left behind. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a small way, a big way, political, creative or whatever. It’s about getting a message out there. It’s about keeping our culture alive.”

The exhibition will run from 20 August until 2 September 2008 with a preview on the evening of Thursday 16 August, 5.30pm - 7.30pm.


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