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Ian Wedde, ‘Karanga’s Way Paved by Te Māori Export’Evening Post, 9 May 1986.

When Te Māori departed for America, it was clear that the exhibition’s return to New Zealand would have enormous cultural and political implications for the arts here.

            The sensation was as I imagine a tsunami: a withdrawal followed by silence in which you begin to anticipate the cataclysm. Now, it feels increasingly as though the purpose of sending Te Māori away was an anticipation of the effect of its return.

Among these effects will be a realignment of the thinking, the priorities, the authority of arts administration, particularly of museum and art gallery administration.

And the silence of Te Māori’s withdrawal to America has begun to be filled with the sound of administrators making ready for its return.

The AGMANZ Journal for April this year was largely devoted to the hui at Takapūwāhia marae in Porirua at which matters arising out of this readying were discussed.

In a broad sense, such discussions belong in the same political arena as the Waitangi Tribunal’s recent findings on Māori language and Māori dissatisfactions within the trade-union movement. It is not possible to maintain tidy distinctions between the cultural and the political.

Sending the work of seven contemporary Māori artists to Australia earlier in the year (the Te Ao Mārama exhibition) can also be seen as political. Its return, likewise, will make waves.

It’s in this context, whose difficulties and energies we are fortunate to be living through, that the present exhibition at City Art Gallery occurs.

Karanga Karanga is an exhibition by a community of Māori women, including Robyn Kahukiwa, Patricia Grace, Janet Pōtiki, Keri Kaa, Irihapiti Ramsden. The concept of the exhibition was taken up by ex-director Anne Philbin and seen through by John Leuthart.

As well as having to rethink attitudes to art objects (an area where argument over ‘quality’ and ‘value’ is bound to continue), we have also to readjust attitudes to the spaces in which art is seen: for example, are conflicts between the spiritual and the consumerist dissolved by the lifting of the tapu?

Despite such complex issues, it’s possible to respond immediately to the power of the immense cloak made by Janet Pōtiki, Pat Grace, Robyn Kahukiwa, and Kohai Grace.

As Sue Thomas noted last Tuesday, this is a poutokomanawa, an image facing the past. It is also, as art, an object of great beauty and richness, whose materials (titree leaves, toitoi, mussel shells) and concept occupy their contemporary space with complete confidence.

An artist-in-focus exhibition of ten years work by Emily Karaka is an almost overpowering accompaniment to the Karanga Karanga show.

Karaka’s highly charged fusions of painterly, Māori, and personal have been in the forefront of debate on influence versus appropriation, art’s status, art value.

Rob Taylor, ‘Karanga Karanga Historically Important’Dominion Post, 15 May, 1986. Excerpt.

The most important exhibition in Wellington at the moment is Karanga Karanga at the City Art Gallery. This is the first call, the first gathering-in, for the first public multimedia cooperative exhibition of contemporary art by Māori women.

In our standard art texts New Zealand art starts with Sydney Parkinson on Cook’s Endeavour in 1769, or with Charles Heaphy arriving for the New Zealand Company in 1839.

The Māori would provide a mine of rich subjects for art. But their own art, in these texts, would be neatly sidestepped and ignored as a sort of pre-New Zealand art.

Te Māori seems to have changed that. From an international point of view the art of importance from this place is from pre-New Zealand Aotearoa.

The United States wanted Te Māori. So in its return we will flock to see it too. It is also finally possible for a New Zealand public art gallery to do that which would seem most natural, to acknowledge that this place has also continued as Aotearoa, and present an exhibition by Māori women. When this exhibition was conceived, the gallery director was the American Anne Philbin …

Georgina Kamiria Kirby, ‘A Calling Out, A Gathering In’, Listener, 12 July 1986.

One of the most dramatic changes in the last decade of Māori development has been the blossoming of the women’s creative talents. Of course such creativity existed before but the scene for talented Māori women to express themselves has traditionally been a non-Māori preserve.

The question of liberation or feminism, still raised in other circles, was never relevant in Māoridom. Traditional Māori crafts-women, writers, composers and singers have made a name for themselves in their own right, bringing out their own experiences as women and making a valuable contribution to the Aotearoa landscape.

The growth of a modern movement for Māori women’s creativity was strengthened by the connections and acknowledgments which emerged from the three Karanga Karanga exhibitions held concurrently in the Wellington City Art Gallery (9,000 people saw this one), the Fisher Gallery in Pakuranga, Auckland, and the Gisborne Museum and Art Gallery during May and June.

These exhibitions were a celebration of women working in the traditional and contemporary arts coming together to set the spirit of Māori women’s talents free. There was a vision of the women working together other than on a marae or in their homes with their families, doing something different, exploring, musing on and sorting out why Karanga Karanga was an important event.

Seventy talented Māori women across the nation, named and unnamed, young and younger, trained and training, working in different media, were first brought together to combine their talents for these exhibitions in May last year. The karanga had begun:

Tēnā i whiua!

Tāku pōhiri e rere atu rā

Ki te hiku o te ika

Te puku o te whenua

Te pane o te motu kī

Te whakawhititānga i Raukawa

Ki Te Waipounamu e . . .

(Begin with the swing! My call has gone forth/To the tail of the fish/To the belly of the land/To the head of the island/And across the straits of Raukawa/ToTe Waipounamu.) So begins the famed women’s haka of welcome, ‘Te Urunga Tū, Te Urunga Pae’.

As the Karanga Karanga catalogue for Wellington said: ‘This karanga is many things, a calling out and a gathering in, and from there a journey which is a start for some and a continuation for others. It is a call to people made public, and also a karanga for all those who join us with their art, including those who have gone before and those yet to come. The specific journey for this exhibition has been one of a community of women working in groups to make their art, an art in which Māori women represent themselves, their own culture and concerns, an art in which we make the images and seek to redefine ourselves through them.’

The collaborative process combined their minds, their disciplines, their wonder, their whanaungatanga and their talented breath, working from nothing to reproduce a work representing what each group wanted to say.

Taranga, a piece made by Janet Pōtiki, Patricia Grace, Robyn Kahukiwa, and Kōhai Grace, was a three-metre-tall cloak of natural materials on hessian, representing three of the things which are part of the wholeness embodied by Taranga, goddess and mother of the audacious Māui-Pōtiki. The three things chosen were Taranga’s korowai (cloak), maro (woman’s private covering), and hair, which interconnect in their suggestions of femaleness, their connotations of birth, and the struggle to retain life and the positive strength of woman.

Four young weavers—Kataraina Hetet-Winiata, Verenoa Puketapu-Hetet, Stephanie Turner, and Rea Ropiha—produced an enormous three-dimensional sculptural woven and painted three-panel work, Ngā Puna o Te Ora. Kataraina encouraged the team to create and diversify from a strong traditional weaving base to produce the contemporary, innovative installation. The work embraced the life-force of Niwareka who brought the knowledge of weaving into the world of light, and Papatūānuku and other female life forces who answer many of the questions children ask about the world, making women/mothers natural storehouses of knowledge.

Robyn Kahukiwa and Ani Crawford combined in an assemblage which was a tribute to Hinematioro, a woman of great mana. A whanau of Raiha Waaka, Melanie Cullinan, Jolie Gunson, and Grace Warren made a work concerned with what world leaders are giving us in the name of peace; and a papier-mache sculpture within a firebox as a symbol of hope, Papatūānuku, represented the feelings of Hinemoa Hilliard and Wendy Howe about nuclear war and its effects.

The choice of simple materials highlighted not only the work of the groups but the women’s resourcefulness. Wāhine was an exquisite piece of ‘word weaving’ by Patricia Grace and Robyn Kahukiwa. Tairawhiti Kōrero was a stylish book of poetry on handmade paper by Keri Kaa, Robyn Kahukiwa, and Ngapine Tāmihana Te Ao, whose idea the exhibition was. ‘Women’s strength and power is born of her womanliness’ was the theme of the nobly sculptured gourds by mother-and-daughter team Erenora and Veranoa Puketapu-Hetet. Another whanau of three women whose grandmothers were sisters and whose lives are interwoven—Irihapeti Ramsden, Mihiata Retimana, and Lee Retimana—wove together modern media, perspex, flax, handmade paper, and photographs in Ngā Whatu to demonstrate the joys and anguish of their whanau.

In Gisborne and Auckland, work was shown by weaving matriarchs Rangimarie Hetet, Diggeress Te Kanawa, Puti Rare, Te Aue Davis, Eva Anderson, Matehonore Rickard, Cath Brown, Freda Kawharu, and Aromea Te Maipi, already renowned for their own work and for helping Māori women to value the fibres in our own cultural garden, a place which breathes the joy of a natural, finite yet limitless world of tradition, independence, and creative weaving.

As we do what we do, we are always aware of the marvellous power of language, of how Māori women are historians, storytellers, witnesses, singers, and signifiers who speak truths, who curse, utter blessings, recreate, revitalise the language, and add new lustre to their cultural literature. Arapera Blank describes herself as a creative writer who likes words that sparkle and that can emerge in prose or poetry. She contributed an anthology of poems, Ngā Kōkako Huataratara. Keri Kaa, writing in English and Māori, uses words ‘that jump out and bite you’. Her poem ‘Kumeroa Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi’ is a tribute to a great woman. Ngoi always offered shelter, a true mother bird who understood the joy and pain of restless creative spirits, people like lost birds with nowhere to land.

Among Kura Rewiri Thorsen’s paintings the pou-pou like figures of He Tohu o te Tiriti were compelling; Joelene Douglas’s exploration of different dimensions with pastels was visionary; and Toi Maihi produced delightful and innovative bubble kites, kelp constructions, and piu piu like jewellery of flax fibre.

Ngapine Te Ao, who made three quilted, dyed-silk cushions for Auckland, uses as design elements symbols of things vital to the ongoing spiritual wellbeing of Māori people. She believes inherited and intuitive elements should be used to show what they can offer, whether in lino prints, ink drawings, silk hangings, or slab pottery.

Visitors entering the Karanga Karanga exhibition in Auckland were greeted by Hinemoa Harrison’s beautiful korimako tukutuku panel, with feathers adding a new dimension. Suspended nearby was the installation Waiata Koa, plaited strands woven together by eight women and draped from ceiling to floor where the ropes ended in an open spiral. It was a welcome to anyone who wanted to join in. Within the spiral were kōhatu, stones with the names of each participant written on. This unifying installation, created at the opening to a waiata by Katerina Mataira, expressed the myriad thoughts and ideas that ran through the multimedia nature of this exhibition.

Hiraina Polson and Paparangi Reid worked at shaping the earth in their burnished pottery carved with inlaid paua, and in their ceramic gourds. Ngaio Wharekura created feather-box pottery and small gourd-like clay shapes which used her sister Toi’s designs, and were suspended from a tree like little figures who have found a temporary home.

‘E kore koe e ngaro, He kākano i ruia mai i Rangiatea’ (I will never be lost, I come from Rangiatea) was Maureen Lander’s tribute to the flax plant and a tribute to cloakmakers. The co-operative installation, which spoke of the seeds of knowledge brought from Rangiatea, was a fine tribute to the harakeke.

Aotearoa is the home of tāniko, distinctive to Māori women. Very fine finger woven headbands, belts, hand purses and dainty earrings were nimbly made by Pani Carruther (belts and bookmarks), Hinerangi Puru (belts), Puti Rare (Muku tāniko wallet), and Oonagh Marino and the Whaiora work-skills group (belts, brooches, novelty items).

Looking forward into the twenty-first century rather than back to the nineteenth, we can see a new age in which interior decoration, fashion, furnishings, wall-hangings, paintings, and photography will bear influences of Māori design, finesse, and sophistication, an extension of the skills we as Māori women can embrace worldwide.

Approximately forty Māori women exhibited work in the Fisher Gallery with much energy, creating spiritual vibrations which touched the thousands of visitors who made contact with the works or simply looked with reverence. Karanga Karanga was an exciting exercise done by Māori women, about Māori women, for Māori women.

Kei te tū whakamihi kia koutou ngā wāhine Māori i roto i tēnei te whakahirahira i ngā taonga.

Darcy Nicholas, ‘A Calling Out, A Gathering In’, Listener, 12 July 1986.

The Karanga Karanga exhibitions were by communities of Māori women working throughout the country. They were exhibitions in which they represented themselves, their culture and concerns. In Auckland we saw the work of individuals moulded into a group. Artists like Helen Lloyd, Maureen Lander, and Kura Rewiri Thorsen have developed a sophisticated technique having trained at the Elam School of Fine Arts. Seeing their work on the Māori art scene was exciting.

The creative Toi Maihi exhibited a wide range of works that included a powerful series of woven kelp pieces. Hiraina Polson and Paparangi Reid produced some beautiful red-ochre pottery. The kakahu and kete by Puti Rare stood out for excellence of technique and colour. The excitement for me was to see the work of Freda Kawharu publicly exhibited. She was one of the early Māori artists to graduate with a diploma in fine arts. The Auckland exhibition produced new Māori artists and encouraged younger and older artists back into the scene.

I was disappointed not to see some of the beautiful fabric creations of Amy Brown or the creative stylish clothing of Hinewirangi Kohu.

The approach in the Wellington exhibition was different. For a year, women worked collectively on pieces. The result was a series of workshop pieces. Ūkaipō (mother) was an intimate story in hue (gourds), feathers, and harakeke by Erenora Puketapu-Hetet and her daughter Verenoa. Each well-sculptured piece was placed on a woven mat symbolising the binding of people from past, present, and future generations.

Whakapapa: Brother by Emily Karaka is a small but powerful painting that stood out because of its sheer skill and economy of line and colour. It also laid to rest the ghost of Philip Clairmont that seemed to be in her other works. The fact that it was on an old piece of wood instead of art-school-style hessian gave it additional impact.

The poems of Keri Kaa display the warmth of wit and humour that typifies her personality at its best. All New Zealanders could benefit from reading her poetry and that of her sister Arapera Blank.

Taranga was a large installation created by Janet Pōtiki, Patricia Grace, Robyn Kahukiwa, and Kōhai Grace. It made use of natural materials and could well be the catalyst for a whole series.

The Wellington exhibition was a sense of occasion rather than a visual spectacular. Its collective nature had a family warmth that provided a support network for less-experienced artists. I would like to have seen single works by Susie Roiri, Erenora Puketapu-Hetet, Robyn Kahukiwa, and Kataraina Hetet-Winiata. However, it was not that type of exhibition.

The weavers in the show wanted to accompany the mauri of their work and weave beside it. Weaving is a living art form and the process is an ongoing part of the total art. However, they were overruled by senior members and placed away from the main exhibition.

The Karanga exhibitions are an important cutting edge for contemporary women’s art. What I saw in the Auckland and Wellington exhibitions showed me that this movement needs vigorous support because of its importance in women’s art internationally.

The pathway of the karanga leads us to the threshold of our ancestors. This one has just started out and the journey will be an exciting and rich one.

Jane Collins, ‘Streak of Light’, Listener, 20 August 1990. Excerpt.

Individually, Haeata members might not be able to break into the competitive art scene. But, suggests John Leuthart, now visual arts manager for the Arts Council, as a group they are headed for strong national recognition.

Haeata worked with Project Waitangi and the Wellington City Art Gallery to put together the Maria Tiriti exhibition shown recently at the gallery. Five Māori and five Pākehā artists were invited to contribute. The Māori artists were Robert Jahnke, Robert Pouwhare, Diane Prince, Kura Rewiri-Thorsen, and Robyn Kahukiwa. The Pākehā artists were Juliet Batten, Philip Kelly, Gerda Leenards, Robert Taylor, and Barbara Strathdee.

Organising the exhibition was a breakthrough in power sharing, says Leuthart, formerly director of the Wellington City Art Gallery. The ability of Haeata and Project Waitangi to work together was also important in pulling together an exhibition which properly represented both treaty partners.

‘There are a number of gallery directors and curators who are interested in working in a similar way with Māori artists’, says Leuthart, ‘and I think that the climate would be very receptive to a proposal from the women as a collective.’

Next year the group will begin to organise an exhibition to be shown elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas, says member Tungia Baker.

Haeata was born in 1983 when Irihapeti Ramsden, Miriama Evans, and Marian Evans were asked by Wendy Harrex of the New Women’s Press to produce the first Māori Herstory Diary. (As the Spiral Collective, the group had published Keri Hulme’s novel The Bone People.)

It was decided to set up a new group of Māori women for the diary project. The Haeata Māori Women Arts Collective began with about $100 of ‘found’ money. ‘Irihapeti got some money from a big land meeting at Ngai Tahu and I got some from an article I’d written for someone,’ says early member Keri Kaa. The name Haeata, which was chosen by the group’s kuia Maaka Jones, means ‘the first streak of light which heralds the dawn.’

Twenty-eight kuia, all aged sixty and over, were interviewed for the diary, published in 1985. ‘Everyone was interviewing all the flash young Māoris with big fat salaries—we thought it was time the old kuia were interviewed’, says Kaa.

After the diary, it was resolved to keep Haeata together. ‘We had a group of very talented multi-skilled Māori women and we wanted to keep that collective identity in order to awhi each other in whatever we did’, says Ramsden. About twenty-five Māori women artists, particularly younger ones, have been assisted by the Haeata fund.

‘We’d help them to buy good brushes or a roll of canvas, or petrol money to go to a weaving course, or pay for people’s travel to a hui’, says Kaa. Haeata has no formal status or structure. It is open to anyone who wants to join, has any artistic talent, or wants to support those who have (including Pākehā and men). New members are usually found through friends or relatives. Kaa cannot say how many women belong to Haeata—people come and go. ‘To us anyone who turns up is Haeata.’

After the publication of the Herstory Diary, Haeata began organising exhibition openings and book launchings, mainly for its own members. Before the collective’s involvement, book launchings had been ‘deadly dull’, says Kaa, with boring speeches and too much booze. The introduction of Māori kawa with formal pōwhiri, whaikōrero, and waiata changed all that.

In 1986, Haeata organised its first major exhibition of Māori women’s art, Karanga Karanga, which was held at the Wellington City Art Gallery in conjunction with other similar exhibitions in Gisborne and Auckland.

Anne Philbin, then Wellington City Art Gallery director, was supportive of Māori women’s art and an important figure in Haeata’s history, says Kahukiwa. She was prepared to take the risk of exhibiting younger unknown Māori women alongside those who were more established. ‘We are about affirming and encouraging the younger ones to have a go’, says Kaa.

Leuthart became gallery director while Karanga Karanga was being installed. ‘He comes into a new job and is confronted by twenty-five Māori women participating in a large group installation—he must have wondered what had hit him’, says Kaa.

Though he admits to some initial doubts, particularly about the group’s demands for more power over the exhibition, Leuthart was very pleased with the result. ‘Once we began to share some of the power and resources and Māori people identified Māori in the management decision process for the exhibition, audiences increased significantly. Karanga Karanga attracted about 16,000 visitors, one of the largest attendance figures enjoyed that year.’