An Auckland artist says materials stolen from her art installation at a festival over the weekend were "sacred" to her.
"I know to most people, they just see ribbons and bells, but it's so much more than that," said Tiffany Singh, whose artwork was displayed at the Splore Festival at Tapapakanga Park in Orere Pt, southeast Auckland.
The ribbons and handmade bells from India were hung in a tree for people to ring, but thieves stole half the materials after the festival had ended on Sunday. The installation was called The Singing Ringing Tree.
Singh has gathered the ribbons and bells over the past five years, and said the bells were handmade by a family in Rann of Kutch in the state of Gujarat.
"They're the last family in the world that make those bells," Singh said. "It's a really special relationship that I've got with those bell makers . . . I've been supporting this community for five years."
Singh has been trying to rejuvenate and bring awareness to the forgotten craft.
"They're like sacred objects to me, they're really special to me."
Singh has used the bells and ribbons in numerous different ways at several exhibitions, and said they made up several thousand dollars worth of material.
She discovered the theft when she showed up on Monday morning to deinstall the artwork.
"I cried. I just cried," she said.
"There's so much energy and spirit that's gone into that work and they're for everybody to enjoy."
Since the theft, Singh has had a lot of support on social media, which she said was "really encouraging".
"To be honest, I had no idea how many people were aware of my work, or how people feel about it," she said.
Splore marketing manager Suzanne McNamara said the festival staff were "heartbroken" about the theft, and encouraged the thief to return the materials.
Splore, an annual three-day music and art festival, had exhibited artworks since 2002 and never had anything stolen before.
"We find this behaviour totally unacceptable," McNamara said.
Splore staff were unsure whether a festival-goer or just a member of the public had stolen the materials, because the theft happened after the festival ended and people had gone home.
She said someone might have taken the materials, not realising they were part of a major art installation.
"Maybe they just didn't realise how precious it was.
"They may well be embarrassed and give it back," she said.
"We're just totally saddened that this has happened to one of our most high-calibre artists that we've had at Splore."
McNamara wanted to emphasise the theft was "not normal Splore behaviour".
She urged the person who took the materials to return them, either by dropping them off at the studio at 4a Cross St, Newton, Auckland, or by contacting McNamara on 021 933 331.
"For anybody who does bring it back, there's absolutely no repercussions," she said.
The person could even send a text message advising where staff could pick up the art from.