Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
An artist with a vision to revive mahi toi (art) is showcasing weaving talent in Te Hiku o te Ika (the Far North) in an exhibition plagued by delays.
Awhina Murupaenga (Ngāti Kuri) developed Tuku atu tuku mai, a collection of contemporary tukutuku (woven panels) at Kaitaia's Te Ahu Centre, to promote storytelling.
"The whole concept of Tuku atu tuku mai is the sharing of our matauranga (Māori knowledge)," says Murupaenga.
"Sharing our mauri (life force) when we do the mahi (work) together."
This is Murupaenga's third attempt at exhibiting the panels.
"This was supposed to be exhibited for Matariki last year, then it went on hold for Te Wiki o te reo Māori (Māori Language Week). However, Covid came back the week before opening."
Museum curator Whina Te Whiu (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kuri), says the community needs exhibitions like Tuku atu tuku mai.
"For too long, we've had these restrictions due to Covid," says Te Whiu.
"What a beautiful theme of tukutuku and weaving people back into this space. It's just appropriate and right that the exhibition is on now and there are different and deeper threads to this kaupapa."
The exhibition showcases work by kairaranga (weavers), with Murupaenga aiming to inspire the whole community.
"She's built her integrity through this community and she has a lot of support from us all," says Te Whiu.
Tuku atu tuku mai started as an idea to engage tamariki with tukutuku in two kura kaupapa Māori about a year ago through funding from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage.
Murupaenga noticed that because the tamariki spoke te reo Māori, they instinctively understood patterns from the taiao (environment), which are often reflected in tukutuku.
"They loved it, they responded so well to the patterns, it didn't matter what age or male or female, they responded really well. I just think it was something different," says Murupaenga.
The exhibition takes pride of place in the atrium at Te Ahu and has been an immediate hit with locals.
"What I love about Awhina is that she takes people with her," says Te Whiu. "She doesn't do it on her own.
"She has heaps of ihi (personal magnetism) and is passionate and has always been in and out of Te Ahu in these cultural spaces.
"She brings the toi reo, the language of Māori art in modern times.
Murupaenga hopes to help revitalise mahi toi while contributing to the effort to grow matauranga Māori (knowledge) and te reo Māori.
"A lot of the mahi we do is to revive the reo," says Murupaenga.
"Also, for us in Te Hiku o te Ika, we are rich in resources for raranga (weaving).
"We've got kuta that grows in the lake and we've got kiekie that grows in our bush. We've got pingao on the beach, we've got korari, which is our kupu (word) for harakeke (flax) up here. We've also got remuremu that washes up on our beach."
Murupaenga has used her passion as the springboard for a business, Whatu Creative, which teaches the art of tukutuku toi through DIY kits.
"It's overwhelming selling matauranga Māori," says Murupaenga.
"It's really hard when you love your culture that you're actually making money [from it], but on the other side, I'm reviving an art form and the number of people who have thanked me considerably is overwhelming.
"I know eventually, with all the mahi that I'm doing, it will revive the traditional way, too."
The business blew up during the lockdowns, winning support from at least one famous face: Murupaenga had a surge in interest after TVNZ personality Jenny May-Clarkson posted on social media about her creation,
"I don't know her personally but I feel like you get to know your customers," says Murupaenga. "That is a huge goal of why we did this, to actually help our people."
Te Whiu is excited at the prospect of other mahi toi collaborations due to the interest in Murupaenga's exhibition.
"There's always been an interest in traditional Māori arts," says Te Whiu.
"It's just giving those different arts the space and time to be showcased and to allow people to engage and experience and then
"We do make an effort as a community to keep weaving. To not be separate. Then we can all decolonise together."
Tuku atu tuku mai is at Te Ahu Centre, Kaitaia until May 23. Entry is free.