A Special Wharenui Explores Māori Stories Through Paintings, Carvings And Song
Stunning paintings, intricately carved taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) and beautiful music are woven together in the exhibition Ngā Hau Ngākau (Breath of Mine) opening at Canterbury Museum at CoCA on 15 December.
A collaboration between painter Robin Slow, master carver Brian Flintoff and musician Bob Bickerton, this exhibition presents paintings, carvings and sound to explore narratives of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) through evocative imagery and otherworldly soundscapes.
A specially created video sets the artworks in a soundscape of waiata sung by performers Ariana Tikao (Kāi Tahu) and Holly Weir-Tikao (Kāi Tahu) accompanied on taonga puoro by Solomon Rahui (Tūhoe, Kāi Tahu, Kāti Māmoe, Waitaha), Bob Bickerton and the vocalists. The video, produced by Bob Bickerton, explores the stories behind the wonderful imagery.
The artists have collaborated to create a unique space that is evocative of a whare whakairo (carved meeting house). This wharenui (meeting house) is dedicated to manu (birds), which are treasured in Māori mythology as messengers that connect the physical and the spiritual realms.
The exhibition acknowledges birds as Atua Tāngata Whenua, the original ancestors of these islands, and honours their ancient whakapapa (genealogy). The wharenui (meeting house) is a place of learning, a place where the stories of ngā manu can be seen and heard, a place to rest, to explore, to reflect and to experience through quiet contemplation.
Brian Flintoff, who has created 36 carvings for the touring exhibition, has spent decades helping revive the art of taonga puoro and is recognised as one of the world’s leading makers of traditional instruments.
He says the artists have collaborated to create an immersive space. “People see it as an experience rather than an exhibition. There are so many different facets. People return many times to experience it again,” he says.
All his carvings tell stories, he says. “It may be just a bird on a flute, but there is a whole story about that bird and its meaning. It gives people a taste and invites them to explore further.
“It is a wonderful thing to tell these stories. They are so important. They are the steering paddle of the waka that is Māoridom.”
One carving depicts Felix the Kākāpō, who sired many offspring and helped save his species from extinction.
Artist Robin Slow says his paintings are layered with references to the many Māori stories he has gathered over decades of work. He started working with Onetahua Marae in Golden Bay in the early 1990s, helping design a new wharenui to serve three local iwi.
“Doing that required talking to lots of people and bringing those stories in.”
Working with Onetahua Marae also helped inspire Ngā Hau Ngākau, which has toured New Zealand.
“We wondered: What would it be like if we created our own whare? We could carry our own whare from place to place to tell these stories.”
Canterbury Museum Tumuaki/Director Anthony Wright says he is delighted to have such a meaningful exhibition at Canterbury Museum at CoCA.
“This immersive experience will delight and fascinate Waitaha Canterbury audiences as they enjoy these beautiful carvings, paintings and songs, and explore the many stories of Te Ao Māori."
Ngā Hau Ngākau opens on 15 December at Canterbury Museum at CoCA and will run until 28 April 2024. Free entry; donations appreciated.