Inamata ki te anamata through Toi Māori

Issue: Volume 101, Number 12

Posted: 21 September 2022
Reference #: 1HAWTc

Art empowers ākonga to discover, explore and celebrate whakapapa, wellbeing and cultural identity; to weave the past and present. Toi, or Māori art, centres around four primary art forms –raranga (weaving), whakairo (carving), tā moko (tattooing) and toi peita (painting). Tukutuku Kōrero hears how schools across the motu are exploring toi Māori.

 Ākonga of Manutuke School work with Raiha Moetara Snr to prepare their raranga.

Ākonga of Manutuke School work with Raiha Moetara Snr to prepare their raranga.

Toi is in the blood for the people of Manutuke. You can see it when you take the virtual tour of Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow. It’s an exhibition that invites you to explore the land, the people, and the stories of Rongowhakaata, an East Cape iwi renowned for their innate creativity and innovative spirit.

Manutuke School, 14km from Gisborne, fosters a culture of success where children understand their self-worth and uniqueness through the stories and histories of Rongowhakaata.

It is within this context that the school partnered with local creatives to provide authentic learning experiences for ākonga in the Māori immersion unit, supported by Creatives in Schools funding.

For the project, Ngā Toi o te Kāinga, local artists led wānanga in which ākonga could explore whakairo, whatu (a korowai weaving technique), raranga, tukutuku (latticework panelling), pūoro (music), kanikani (dance) and mau rākau (a discipline in martial arts).

Connecting with tradition

“We are trying to reconnect our children to their ancestral art forms whether that be kapa haka, toi Māori or pūoro,” says koka Piata Waitai. “The intention is that they can become carriers of these traditions and life skills, so they may live on and evolve.”

Piata’s mother, Janet Waitai, led workshops in Rongowhakaata-specific whatu kākahu, the traditional art of cloak making. Other artists included Raiha Moetara Snr who taught raranga, and her granddaughter, also Raiha Moetara, who led vocal training. Matua Logan Pokai led mau rākau.

Ākonga at Manutuke School explored the traditional art of weaving korowai.

Ākonga at Manutuke School explored the traditional art of weaving korowai.

“My job is to look after our creatives,” says Piata. “I go around making sure they have their cup of tea, their lunch, and ensure the students are engaged. It’s not just about the skill, it’s about the connection with the students, the staff, and the school.”

Piata explains how they had to purposefully put this kaupapa into their curriculum because ākonga hadn’t been exposed to it.

“I noticed that at first our students weren’t warm to it because it was new, they’d rather play games or be on the computer, but over time they found a big appreciation for the length of time it took to complete their work. The change in attitude was noticeable. And at the end they were so proud, and we saw photos of their work all over Facebook.”

Matua Dan Waitai observed how ākonga gained care skills as the project progressed.

“One of the reasons for getting these particular people in was so tamariki could learn to look after their elders, to manaaki. Making sure they are warm, asking whether they want a tea or coffee, just sitting with them and talking. That’s the part I like most.”

Tamariki are guided through customs around each art such as karakia, tikanga, kōrero tuku iho/stories of the past and noho marae/overnight marae stays.

Embracing cultural identity at Hastings Girls’ High

Cultural identity and expression are at the heart of life at Hastings Girls’ High School. It is reflected in the uniform which has the word Ākina on the blazer pocket, a Ngāti Kahungunu reference to the act of soaring ahead, and the option for ākonga to wear a lavalava.  

A recent visual arts project, a stunning mural at the entrance to the school, speaks to the vibrancy of the school’s culture and its connection with past and present ākonga, whānau and iwi.

The mural, Wāhine Toa-Warrior Women, was led by local artist Vee Hoy. Vee was engaged for 100 hours as part of the Creatives in Schools programme and was supported by art teachers Chris Lee and Ruey Yoong.

The objective was to embrace cultural and contemporary art practices unique to Aotearoa, instil pride in ākonga, celebrate cultural identity, and foster connections amongst students and with their school and community.

It was also an opportunity for ākonga and kaiako to develop their knowledge and practical skills in toi Māori and Polynesian art, and its place in Hawke’s Bay.

The mural Wāhine Toa depicts role models and symbols of importance to rangatahi of Hastings Girls’ High School.

The mural Wāhine Toa depicts role models and symbols of importance to rangatahi of Hastings Girls’ High School.

A community story

After in-depth consultation with ākonga, whānau and iwi, two wāhine from local iwi were chosen to feature in the mural, musicians Dame Hinewehi Mohi and Bic Runga .

“We surveyed our students, who asked their whānau about important, strong women or great role models in their community that they would like to see on the mural. After approval from the school board and principal, these two women were chosen as being inspirational to our students who are Māori,” explains Ruey. 

Musician Bic Runga’s father Joseph was a Māori ex-serviceman whom Bic and her sisters would watch as he worked through land claims for their iwi, Ngāti Kahungunu, also the iwi of many students at Hastings Girls’.  

Dame Hinewehi Mohi is also from Hawke’s Bay. She is of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tūhoe descent and is well-known for singing the national anthem in Māori at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.  

Also selected for representation were flowers and butterflies, and symbols of significance to ākonga such as yin and yang, and references to the LGBTQI+ community.

Work started small-scale on paper in the classroom, then moved outside to the water tank. Students explored graffiti-style art using spray paint, before moving to the pièce de resistance across two walls of the swimming pool block.

“We started off with small projects such as learning to write graffiti-style and researching symbols to represent inspiration and how to draw them,” says Ruey.

Before starting on the mural, ākonga had to prepare the walls with cleaning and sanding. Chris says they were buoyed by encouraging toots from passing drivers.

Using spray paint was challenging – and very much enjoyed.

“Normally we would not want to use spray paint because it’s very messy,” says Chris. “And many art teachers have no experience of graffiti art, so it was a great opportunity for the students to work with a street artist. They are already asking when she is coming back to work with them.

“Vee told the students about life as an artist and showed them that you can make a living in the arts. She brought in her musician friends so sometimes the students would be working while live music played.”

The result is a beautiful professional-standard painting that reveals what inspires ākonga.

“It looks way better than the plain blue wall we had before,” says Chris. “And it’s on one of the main streets in Hastings so people can see it from the road. It’s a very creative-looking entrance.”

Ruey says ākonga are proud to have chosen the subjects for the mural and to have carried out the mahi. “It’s helped build their confidence,” she says.

Contemporary Māori and Pasifika art

Year 3 ākonga at Ōwairaka District School in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland took a trip to Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki for a closer look at their artist heroes, particularly looking at contemporary Māori and Pasifika artists, such as Ayesha Green (Ngāti Kahungunu, Kāi Tahu), a contemporary Māori artist born in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

“Our overarching theme for the year is superheroes. This term we are looking at superhero artists and how contemporary artists can change and alter perspectives on our society,” says kaiako Rose Hansen.

Rose says tamariki are seeing how artists act as role models for society and how they could be too, and exploring how artists share ideas. Some are grasping the abstract concepts behind the work and others are looking at the aesthetic side of things.

“We saw work by Reuben Paterson (Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Tūhoe, Tūhourangi) and Michael Parekowhai (Ngā Ariki Kaiputahi, Ngāti Whakarongo) which ākonga loved.”

The gallery subsidised the cost of transport, and for some ākonga it was a first ever visit to the city centre, never mind a gallery.

Toi at the gallery

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki provides education programmes for ākonga from early learning through to tertiary level. Schools and kura can also book a kaiārahi to support learning in te reo Māori and te ao Māori and request a bespoke programme to support specific learning topics.

Ākonga explore contemporary art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Ākonga explore contemporary art at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

All primary and secondary programmes are free and costs for ticketed exhibitions are discounted for booked education groups. The gallery also offers transport subsidies if cost is a barrier to visits by schools and kura.

In a typical week, 200-300 primary and secondary ākonga use the gallery’s education programmes.

Free resources are available online to schools and kura across the motu. These include lessons such as learning to draw waves (primary) and artist video profiles offering insights to the processes and practices of contemporary artists.

New resources include five visual arts unit plans with an emphasis on mātauranga, te ao Māori and toi Māori, available in English and te reo Māori. These have been developed by secondary school kaiako with support from gallery staff and in partnership with Aotearoa NZ Association of Art Educators (ANZAAE).

Whakairo captured the interest and focus of ākonga at Manutuke School.

Whakairo captured the interest and focus of ākonga at Manutuke School.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:53 am, 21 September 2022

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