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Maori and African students under scrutiny


DATE: 27 November 2009

Inter school arts project explores identity within and between Maori and African students

As part of Eko Theatre's Southern Corridor Project a multi art event will be hosted at Wellington East Girls College focusing the themes of identity and relationship. In a mixture of ages, students of Maori and African descent from Wellington East and from their brother school Rongotai will participate in a day which brings together both the urban art form Tape Art and improvised performance Playback Theatre on Tuesday 8th December.

As tangata whenua Maori are the first people of the land and the most recent migrant group are the African community. Eko Theatre seeks to use the arts as a vehicle for dialogue. Through telling stories and exchanging ideas people develop greater understanding of each other and become enriched and feel valued and are better able to become part of their wider community. This project uses the arts specifically for this purpose.

Mihaere Kirby is the Cultural Advisor on the Southern Corridor Project and he has the following interest. "As a Maori I am interested in focusing on where we as a people are trying to realise our potential. Eko Theatre places Maori values at the centre of its practice and is seeking to build across communities on all levels and in this way increase awareness of indigenous issues. We chose our whakatauki to better strengthen our purpose and our way forward. This is what makes me tick inside this company."

"Me ngakau mohio ki te kaha rangapu, kia kitea ai te rerenga ketanga.

In aan aqoonsano iskuduubnaashadeena iyo kala duwanaanshadeena.

Understanding collective strength and recognising diversity."

The morning of the event will begin with teams of students working together on a Tape Art challenge. The teams will draw with special tape to cover the walls and fences with images that relate to their sense of identity - they will draw what is most important to them. Tape Art is a dynamic and immediate art form and therefore a perfect conduit for dialogue with young people.

After the Tape Art the young men and women from Rongotai & Wellington East Girls Colleges will Powhiri the guest artists and community leaders before the Playback Theatre Event. This will allow the conversations to be grounded in tikanga.

"As an artistic company we are choosing to work within values drawn from Te Ao Maori - Kotahitanga, Kaitiakitanga, Whakapono, Manaakitanga, Rangatiratanga. These values guide us to work 'with' people and 'with' place. There are also frameworks within Te Ao Maori that enable people of difference to encounter and engage with each other in a very potent and constructive way. We are inspired by these process as a way of working within the community and also artistically." Heather Timms, Eko Theatre Director.

At the core of this event is a Playback Theatre performance lead by New Zealand's top Playback Theatre Director, Bev Hoskings. This is an interactive theatre performance and will let the student audience lead the stories. The central themes of the Southern Corridor Project are around identity and relationship and this performance forum will invite an honest teenage voice to come forward.

"I see this project as a whole is creating opportunities for conversations that I don't think have ever taken place before - that is very exciting to me. These days many people are using the word 'dialogue' and I am interested to keep exploring what this actually means in practice". Bev Hoskings

Both colleges instantly recognised the value of an event like this for their Maori and African students. It is a great advantage for the students to be able to take part in a project that is independent from their curriculum.

"Nau te rourou, naku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. Rongotai tangata rau.
My interpretation of this very old saying is; Skills and knowledge passed down to both Maori and African peoples that are contributing to a common cause will result in success as a united people; not only for Rongotai and East but for Wellington and New Zealand. For me it is kaupapa like this that closes cultural division, raises cultural awareness and cultural openess that can be shared within the community." Jason Va'a - Head of Maori, Rongotai College.

The Southern Corridor Project includes a range of arts events and initiatives that will feed into a theatrical work and two multi media installations at the end of 2010. This will enable a professional artistic platform to express a range of perspectives from the Wellington Community from the Maori and African communities. For this pilot project Eko Theatre is working within communities in the Southern Wellington suburbs of Newtown, Berhampore and Island Bay.

Heather Timms, the founding director of Eko Theatre, has more than 20 years' experience as a director of participatory theatre.

Arts Access Aotearoa has acted as an umbrella organisation, enabling Eko Theatre to approach various agencies for funding or in-kind support. Jan Hinde, Executive Director of Arts Access Aotearoa, says the Southern Corridor Project will provide access to high-quality arts activities in diverse Wellington communities.

The Southern Corridor Project is supported by J R McKenzie Trust, Creative New Zealand and Wellington City Council.

Tape Art is supported by Astra Print.

Visit Eko Theatre's website for more information.


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