Many faces of moko revealed

By Lindy Laird


When it comes to taking your culture on the chin nobody does it with more style and pride than women who wear moko kauae, as a powerful photographic exhibition in Whangarei demonstrates.

Te Ohonga Ake - The Re-awakening is an exhibition showing 21 women with moko kauae (chin tattoo), which has been revived in recent decades as part of a reassertion of Maori female identity.

The number of subjects in the exhibition by photographer/artist Wiremu Hohaia refers to the 21st century; the women's varying ages, backgrounds, iwi, skills and lives represent the diversity of these Maori women linked, among other things, through a powerful, still evolving symbol of their ethnicity.

"The exhibition took me just under one year to complete, starting in July last year and finishing with Kiri Peeni [Ngapuhi, textile artist] in Whangarei," Hohaia said.

Hohaia's journey took him to many parts of Aotearoa, giving him entry to an eclectic range of stories, whakapapa, hopes, fears and triumphs and an understanding of how moko kauae, for all that it is a traditional art and concept, is about change, empowerment, awareness and education.

"Te Ohonga Ake - The Re-awakening is simply that; the awakening or awareness of an art that has been on the revival in the last 15 to 20 years with many more woman taking on moko kauae in order to preserve their whakapapa for themselves and their whanau," Hohaia said.

"I travelled to the homes of each lady and interviewed and photographed them, from a humble dwelling in Kawerau, funky inner city apartment in Ponsonby, to a lavish lake house on the shores of Lake Taupo.

"I shot all photographs with the low-key, using natural light concept, with the intention of creating a space of surrendered stillness, the darkness being representation of the unknown, past, present and future, hopes, desires and dreams."

Of Waikato, Ngati Mahuta, Ngati Tipa, Taranaki, Te Atiawa and Ngati Ruanui descent, Hohaia grew up in Papakura and has lived in Whangarei for a year where he is finishing a teaching degree while working at Tikipunga High School. His creative background has been more in music than photography until now. He hopes to use the moko kauae photos and interviews he did with the women in a book on the subject.

"In terms of inspiration in putting this exhibition together, I would say my whakapapa, my Waikato grandmothers, great- great-grandmothers, preserving a piece of their history and life with moko kauae and bringing it back to life with all these great ladies I have met interviewed and photographed over the past year," he said.

"This is my very first exhibition of any sort. I wanted to put a photographic exhibition together on moko kauae after coming across Michael King's Moko in the 20th Century book, with Marti Friedlander, then later on coming across a documentary called In Frame which followed the works of Allan Baldwin, a Whakatane photographer who first photographed women with moko kauae."

Te Ohonga Ake - The Re-awakening opened at Tuatara Design and Gallery yesterday and shows until August 1.

- Northern Advocate

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