Hihiaua Cultural Centre's inaugural art exhibition will showcase traditional and contemporary artwork while telling stories about the coming together of peoples.

The first stage of the Whangārei cultural centre, which is expected to cost $12 million to $15 million once fully completed, is being opened on Saturday in conjunction with the Matariki at Hihiaua Festival.

To celebrate the opening, inaugural art exhibition Terenga Mai will be on display from Saturday.

The exhibition, curated by Whangārei artist Lenny Murupaenga on behalf of the Hihiaua Cultural Centre Trust, speaks of the coming together of all peoples and the arrival at a common destination.

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The show will feature a number of artists - mostly from Northland - working in various media including whakairo (carving), painting, graffiti, taonga pūoro (Māori musical instruments), mixed media, illustration, uku (traditional clay), sculpture, printmaking, taonga (treasures and adornments) and raranga (weaving).

Whangārei carver Poutama Hetaraka is one of the artists exhibiting at Terenga Mai. Photo / Supplied
Whangārei carver Poutama Hetaraka is one of the artists exhibiting at Terenga Mai. Photo / Supplied

Whangārei carver Poutama Hetaraka, who is of Ngāti Wai and Ngai Tahu descent, is one of the exhibiting artists.

As one of the resident carvers at Hihiaua, Hetaraka said he hoped to see the precinct thrive through all aspects of Māori culture.

"It is not just for Māori to enjoy, but for everyone to get a glimpse into the richness and beauty of our culture," he said.

Hetaraka is learning the traditions of whakairo and tā moko from his father, tohunga whakairo (master carver) Te Warihi Hetaraka, but he also creates designs with modern technology for use as graphics.

He said for him, carving was a connection to his people.

"It joins the past, present and future - it is our hononga kite ao tawhito [spiritual connection]. For me there is a sense of āio, calmness, in creativity."

A centre showcasing Māori art and culture in Whangārei was first envisioned by elders more than 40 years ago. It was taken on by The Hihiaua Cultural Centre Trust, which was set up in 2008.

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Trust chairman Richard Drake said he was "extremely excited" to see this become a reality for the people of Tai Tokerau and visitors.

"The public will be able to experience for themselves aspects of our unique and dynamic culture through meaningful interaction with our people, our language, arts and culture," he said.

Hohepa Hemara has been carving for more than 30 years. Photo / Supplied
Hohepa Hemara has been carving for more than 30 years. Photo / Supplied

Specialist carver Hohepa Hemara, of Ngati Kuta and Patukeha descent, was one of the first graduates of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa's whakairo course in Whangārei and will be exhibiting his work at the centre.

He has been carving for more than 30 years and loves to work with wood, especially totara.

"I used to love kauri until I met totara," he said.

Hemara is one of the original resident carvers at Hihiaua and said the art brought him peace.

"It is like therapy to me being in that creative space."

Uku artist Amorangi Hikuroa viewed the Hihiaua Cultural Centre as intrinsic in the continued movement forward of his people. Photo / Supplied
Uku artist Amorangi Hikuroa viewed the Hihiaua Cultural Centre as intrinsic in the continued movement forward of his people. Photo / Supplied

Meanwhile, established uku artist Amorangi Hikuroa, of Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Maniapoto descent, said he was excited to feature work.

He said he viewed the facility as intrinsic in the continued movement forward of his people.

Emerging Northland artist Isaiah-Matthew Rameka will feature mixed media work at the exhibition.

He is influenced by Charles F Goldie and creates art associated with his culture and other cultures.

Rameka is a third-year Bachelor of Applied Arts student at NorthTec and said his goal is to gain a career exhibiting his art and displaying his works internationally.

Emerging Northland artist Isaiah-Matthew Rameka. Photo / Supplied
Emerging Northland artist Isaiah-Matthew Rameka. Photo / Supplied

Terenga Mai will be open to the public daily from Saturday until September 2.

Most of the works are for sale and there will be an exhibition catalogue available for purchase.

Meanwhile, stage two of the Hihiaua Cultural Centre will involve the creation of an iconic building with an auditorium featuring an outdoor/indoor performance stage, a conference and events centre, as well as exhibition and retail spaces.

Both facilities comprising stage one will adjoin the Hatea Loop and form the basis of a centre of Māori arts and cultural excellence.

It will eventually include space for a variety of artistic and cultural pursuits, a laboratory for Māori science and technology projects, an exhibition and retail space, as well as the waka facilities.