Collaborative korowai project reflects journey through life

Issue: Volume 98, Number 10

Posted: 13 June 2019
Reference #: 1H9v79

A korowai (cloak) designed by Year 8 students from Heaton Normal Intermediate School featuring their own personal waka designs, encouraged them to consider what they value in life, their values and their strengths.

Fiona Taylor, Heaton Normal Intermediate School’s visual art specialist, says that following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake there was an increased awareness of what people need for their wellbeing. In 2018, the school’s visual art and performing arts programme took ‘Te Waka’ as its theme. The school’s own korowai inspired a collaborative project – a cloak featuring waka packed with personal and cultural things that were important to the children. The korowai not only became an artwork but was also used in a performance that included music, dance and drama at the end of the project.

“Michel Tuffery’s painting ‘Mana Pasifika’ in Te Papa shows Māori waka loaded with the things they brought with them on their journey,” says Fiona.

“This inspired us to talk about our lives after the earthquakes when packing up and moving became a very real experience for many of us. We had to make choices about what we took with us. So, we started to think about the idea of ‘on your journey through life’, what do you pack, what cargo would be on your ‘shipping manifest?”

Precious cargo

The Year 8 students considered what they would take with them from the past and what they might need in the future, such as relationships, friends, family, cultural and spiritual objects, activities they love, skills (tangible and personal) and useful items including what might be in their ‘emergency kit’: who do you go to, what do you do when your waka is not sailing on calm seas? They also discussed how important it was to include things that would ‘feed the soul’ and inspire them.

The students went to Canterbury Museum and looked at the cargo that the first Māori and European settlers brought on their journeys.

Inspired by the language of whakairo (carving) the students each created a waka design that incorporated imagery representing their own personal cargo. Many included a figurehead that would guide each on his or her journey. These designs then became woodcuts, which were printed on the korowai. Each waka rode on a wave shape featuring the students’ main character strengths, which created a sea of strengths on which the waka could sail safely.

“We realised that as well as your cargo you needed skills and for your waka to stay afloat you needed character strengths to support it on its voyage through life. I found some students were incredibly revealing about that. I had one boy who was absolutely terrified about coming to school. He had huge issues of anxiety and he’d put his top character strength down as perseverance and I thought ‘gosh you’re spot on’,” says Fiona.

Different ‘languages’ important

“It’s really important to think of art as visual literacy. We use a lot of words and language, but visual art is a language, music is a language and dance is a language and some children express themselves better in different forms of literacy. If you only have one form of literacy, that’s not necessarily how each child is going to express themselves best.

“Some of our students, who do not find verbal expression easy, have shown themselves to be visually articulate through their artwork. Their designs are both complex and unique,” says Fiona.

As well as the wellbeing Waka Korowai, smaller korowai and individual prints and house banners were included in a collaborative performance and art exhibition. A waka shape was created on stage, with students drawing and cutting out shapes of things that were important to them and loading them on the waka.

Fiona spoke about the project at the Primary Teachers Conference in Wellington in April and said the students looked at the wellness criteria that enable people to flourish in life, including those in the Red Cross’s Bounce Programme.

For more information:

Korowai exhibited at Art Expo

The Waka Korowai was displayed at a one-day youth art expo in December 2017 at the Toi Moroki Centre of Contemporary Art in Christchurch, alongside more than 150 art works and performances by around 100 artists aged between 11 and 25. The exhibition was organised by Bounce, a New Zealand Red Cross peer education project developed after the Canterbury earthquakes. The programme is run by young people, with youth ambassadors sharing wellbeing tips and advice with their peers to empower them and encourage emotional wellbeing and resilience.

While the project was geared to Year 7 and 8 children, Fiona says it could easily be adapted to a younger age group.

“It’s about providing a language, tools and a literacy that enables all students to express themselves. That might mean bringing in a favourite teddy bear and talk about why it is important to them. It becomes a way of opening up a conversation,” she says. 

What are the arts about?

Te toi whakairo, ka ihiihi, ka wehiwehi, ka aweawe te ao katoa.

The arts are powerful forms of expression that recognise, value, and contribute to the unique bicultural and multicultural character of Aotearoa
New Zealand, enriching the lives of all New Zealanders. The arts have their own distinct languages that use both verbal and non-verbal conventions, mediated by selected processes and technologies. Through movement, sound, and image, the arts transform people’s creative ideas into expressive works that communicate layered meanings.

Why study the arts?

Arts education explores, challenges, affirms, and celebrates unique artistic expressions of self, community, and culture. It embraces toi Māori, valuing the forms and practices of customary and contemporary Māori performing, musical, and visual arts.

For more information:

He waka eke noa – we are all in this together

Fiona’s students found that the metaphor of the waka and the journey ties in with the Māori concept of ‘he waka eke noa’ – all being in one waka together, with personal and spiritual relationships being important.

“It’s about getting the language going, providing tools and a range of literacies that enable students to express themselves in their own way,” she says.

“One boy wanted to put his pounamu necklace in his waka, it was the last gift his mother had given him before she died tragically. He completely blew me away. He wasn’t a boy who would normally find expressing himself easy, but his exploration of how he felt through visual literacy became the catalyst to a conversation that included a discussion about how difficult some days were for him. The project had enabled him to feel confident enough to express himself and to trust that he would be listened to.”

Fiona says that the main thing is to get the language of a school’s wellbeing model being used throughout a school, so it becomes common language.

“I’ve been teaching a long time and these issues have just grown and grown, obviously in Christchurch a little bit more than some other areas. I think the metaphor of the waka and what you would put in it in practical terms as you go through life is helpful.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:25 am, 13 June 2019

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