When artist Charlotte Graham was asked to create a Christmas artwork at Britomart, there was just one request.

Rather than featuring snow, reindeer or holly, could it have a southern hemisphere vibe to celebrate the season in a country where (supposedly) it's summer and, rather than roasting chestnuts on an open fire, we're meant to be burning snags on the barbeque?

Graham, who holds a Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts and was taught by the likes of Shane Cotton, Kura Te Waru Rewiri and Robert Jahnke at Massey University, didn't hesitate. She knew she wanted to stay away from "traditional" seasonal colours like red, green and gold and instead make something in earthier and jewel tones that emphasises Christmas as a time of connectedness between whānau and friends, people and land, past, present and future.

The result is Te Waiora, a ground-based temporary artwork that threads its way through Britomart's nine blocks. It's made up of 24 hand-painted multi-coloured "water droplets", many inscribed with Māori designs, which have been printed as 1200 decals and applied to pavements.


She based her design around water, an element that unites us all but also signifies the maritime histories of New Zealanders and the way the Waitematā once covered Britomart before the land was reclaimed. That serves as a reminder of the downtown precinct's pre-colonial past.

Working with Soar Print, Graham was mindful that the decals needed to be slip-proof but resilient enough to stand up to thousands of pairs of feet, scooters and bicycles moving over them until the end of January. They also had to be recyclable and use water-based inks.

Artist Charlotte Graham. Photo/Joe Hockley
Artist Charlotte Graham. Photo/Joe Hockley

Te Waiora is the biggest installation the conceptual artist has made and, she says, one that's received the biggest response. During the three days she was installing it, staff from the Britomart Group, which commissioned Te Waiora, joined in to help as did members of the public including children.

"I thought about when I was a child and I didn't like going shopping with my mother, so how I might be holding her hand but jumping from place to place on the pavement," says Graham. "I designed it so kids could jump from droplet to droplet – which is exactly what I've seen them doing. I liked the idea of children and play and imagination."

One little girl even joined in, merrily sticking decals to the footpath.

Graham says in 24 years of artmaking, she's never spoken with so many passersby keen to know about the work and the story around it. Jeremy Hansen, of the Britomart Group, says feedback has been extremely positive.

"You notice that when the physical environment changes, as it does with the installation of an artwork, that it changes the way people interact," says Hansen. "I could see people relishing Charlotte's explanation and I thank her for that because they were gifted an experience and interaction which took them out of their everyday lives."