For 20 years, more than 100 laureates have been celebrated and recognised by the Arts Foundation for their singular talent and potential. Canvas asked six of the seven laureates announced this week as New Zealand's most outstanding practitioners across all genres, what is their earliest memory of the arts and how did it shape their path?
Ariana Tikao (Kāi Tahu)
Jillian Friedlander Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Award
When I was little I took myself off to Sunday school. Nobody else in my whānau went to church or anything. I remember singing my favourite Sunday school songs into a microphone plugged into our new stereo. I felt like quite a star but my brothers laughed and called me "goody-two-shoes". I had discovered the joy of singing and the art of resilience from being laughed at. I remember making up waiata for my tīpuna during my night-time prayers, asking God to send them on. I think that connection between music and spirituality was always a part of me. Although naturally introverted, I later sang in school productions and did kapa haka when available – which wasn't a given in Christchurch back then. Those experiences – plus playing with my Superstar Barbie and being taken to musicals by my auntie - laid the foundations for creating my own music.
Sir Roger Hall Theatre Award
Back in Sri Lanka our family didn't own a television or a video player until I was about 8 years old. When we watched a film it was an event of grand proportions. We would hire a player and visit a relative who owned a TV and next thing you know practically the entire neighbourhood would be squeezed into someone's lounge, trying to get a glimpse of this other world. I would recreate and retell the film using whatever found objects in our home to anyone who would watch or listen (usually cousins who needed to be bribed and neighbours who felt obliged to). E.T. was probably my
favourite. Our country was broken into pieces and was falling apart but these moments in the lounges of others through art was a reminder that hope did exist somewhere.
Moss Te Ururangi Patterson (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāti Rāhiri)
Mum is a ceramic artist, working mostly with clay and Dad was a musician and spent lots of time on the back porch playing old country songs at the top of his voice. I spent heaps of time with Mum in our old garage, making pottery cups and bowls and little dinosaur creatures. And there was my kuia, Rowena Irihau Southon, who was a painter and weaver of stories. When I was learning dance, I went down to Taupō often to spend time with her, 'cause living in the city was tough going. Quite a lonely experience I found and not much whānau support there. She would take me down to our family marae in Tokaanu to sit quietly in the wharenui and also up to the old urupa sharing stories of our tuupuna and their journeys in life and death. It was during those experiences, in my final years of growing into becoming a professional artist, where I had these moments of deep connectedness to something quite sublime and magical. Dance was something that allowed me to feel, I guess, to access the hidden parts of ourselves, the invisible nature of life, the esoteric nature of our existence. I think that was what I was searching for. I was searching for trying to capture some of the quietness of life. She was such a beautiful, wise teacher, she really gave me a real sense of my pepeha Māori and a foundation to build from, and the loneliness of creativity. It's really important to have those foundations, well, we don't necessarily have to find them but they can really help us to be able to expand our consciousness and world view.
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My Art Visual Art Award
My earliest memory with connecting with the arts was walking into Minpaku National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka as a child and being in awe of the diverse treasures from Oceania; and saying to myself that one day I will live and make art in the Pacific. Having formally being based in Aotearoa since 1989 and now living and working from Samoa for the last 11 years (travelling to Aotearoa periodically for projects), I feel I'm able to see Aotearoa more clearly with a critical distance because I notice things that people living in Aotearoa take for granted, such as the Arts which continues to be undermined. It's an honour to be a recipient of the Art Laureate Award in addition to being appointed to represent Aotearoa New Zealand at the 59th Venice Biennale in 2022. These two prestigious awards signal the importance of the artist and their contribution to shaping a more equitable society.
Tusiata Avia, MNZM
Teresa Gattung Female Arts Practitioners Award
I started writing when I was 10. I had this hideous teacher, she was awful, really mean and told me off all the time. But she made me write. By the end of intermediate school I realised writing – poetry in particular – was something I was good at. I won the Chisnallwood Intermediate Literary Cup. I kept writing until I was 15 and then I stopped.
It was the 80s in Christchurch (i.e. Muldoon government, Springbok tour, dawn raids, etc) and brown girls did not go on to become writers. By 15, I got that message loud and clear. Writing was what I most wanted to do, but I knew I had to lower my expectations to something more fitting to my station. Something I thought brown girls might be allowed to aspire to. It took another two decades before I was able to let myself be a writer.
FAFSWAG (Elyssia Wilson)
One of my earliest memories was going to visit my nana and sitting with her as she weaved. My nana was a phenomenal weaver and she would weave Niuean mats, baskets and hats. I cherish the memories of sitting and watching Nana weave, she really was brilliant at her craft and really generous with sharing her gifts.
My nana always was super encouraging of my passion for performing arts too and would often get me and my cousins to perform items at our family gatherings. I was often the lead choreographer for my group of cousins and made them perform to multiple Spice Girls tunes, growing up as a kid in the 90s. I am forever grateful to my family for having always allowed me the space to dream and chase my artistic dreams. I'm still dreaming now with this chosen family I have in the FAFSWAG collective and am incredibly proud of the culture-shifting mahi we dream up together.
*Shayne Carter, the seventh recipient, opted to not take part.