Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: When happily ever after is another story

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Cards by Salome Tanuvasa about whanau ora.
Cards by Salome Tanuvasa about whanau ora.

"Eat your colours everyday," say the cheerful posters in Ruapotaka Marae's whare kai in Glen Innes, showing bright green broccoli and purple aubergine. I like this campaign: it highlights what we should do (eat delicious veges) rather than what we shouldn't (eat lollies). When we're full of veg, we're less likely to fill up on junk anyway.

Below those posters this week has been a small art exhibition inspired by a similar understanding of human nature. Except instead of healthy eating, the focus is healthy relationships. "Nobody wants to come into this room and talk about family violence," says Cristy Trewartha, co-ordinator of Heart, a social movement involving 20 organisations in Glen Innes and Pt England. So, instead, Heart focuses on whanau ora (family wellbeing), and offers useful parenting tips, as well as art and warming soup.

"Whanau ora is not pretending all is sweetness and light," says Trewartha. "It's about how you deal with challenge, about how you can stay together [and support each other] in challenge and not hurt each other."

I didn't go to Glen Innes expecting to talk about these things; I went for the Matariki lights show in next door Maybury Reserve. The lights show is the best kind of neighbourhood family fun: LED displays of hei tiki and manaia but also palm trees, fish, running tracks and hokey golfing Kiwis in Santa hats (shades of mid-winter Christmas). A disco ball spins in a large spreading tree. The finale is 6pm-9pm tonight, with a concert early on and a fireworks display at 9pm. Without mentioning it, the event is "taking back the night" in grand style, thanks to squadrons of easy-going security.

Tonight's also the last night for Heart's art exhibition. Four Maori and three Pacific artists - representing the seven stars of Matariki - were invited to make art about whanau ora. It was important they were local, says Trewartha: "You could ask people from outside but they wouldn't be connected here."

That sounds poignant in the midst of a state housing community being halved by force to make room for richer house owners. But a similar ethos was also espoused by Ema Tavola when she was Fresh Gallery manager in Otara: prioritising art by locals for locals, to offer relevance and nurture talent. "People feel proud when they know the artist," says Trewartha, particularly as a couple of the Matariki artists are still in high school.

The artworks range from graffiti writing to group weaving, carving to Salome Tanuvasa's richly-coloured watercolours reprinted on cards for visitors to take away. Visitors can also stack Petelo Esekielu's large cotton-reel shapes to make a pou (column) of his ancestral patterns from Samoa, China and early pan-Pacific Lapita culture.

The works are accessible and interested in complexities. Several artists touch on the temporal, dynamic aspect of "whanau ora" - families are not static, family members change and grow. Whanau ora is not passive, it's active. "Happily ever after" is not event-less, it is another story.

- NZ Herald

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