Two young former refugees come home to Māori culture through the art of whakairo.
Brothers Mahdi and Ali Abed Hussaini had never seen carving in war-torn Afghanistan.
Their first encounter with whakairo, Māori carving, was at a museum, and they were fascinated.
"Whakairo was something totally new to us. We were surprised to see the shape and form of it and we wanted to know, how do they do it?" said Ali, at the whakairo studio of their school in South Auckland.
The 18- and 17-year-old Otahuhu College students took the first and second places for whakairo at this year's Ringa Toi Student Exhibition, an annual showcase of Māori artwork by secondary school students.
"Honestly it's like finding Jedis, you know, those who have the force!" said whakairo teacher Jay Mason of the brothers' talent and commitment to carving.
Born in Kabul, Mahdi and Ali lost their father at a young age and arrived in New Zealand as refugees in 2014, where they now live with their aunt and uncle.
"That first year was a struggle. We didn't know any English, that was the hardest, but our aunt and uncle helped us with school work and everything," Ali said.
About 1000 refugees arrive in New Zealand every year under the country's refugee quota programme and for the Hussaini brothers, whakairo has allowed them to come home to another culture.
"It's like family once we get in here, that's what I love about this class," Ali said.
"I've learned a lot about Māori culture from carving, not just the art form but the language, tikanga Māori [values and customs], and I see similarities with Afghan culture, the way of living, the way of treating people."
"I've always loved drawing and painting, and carving is something I feel proud to be able to do," Mahdi added.
Otahuhu College is one of a small number of schools in New Zealand that teach whakairo, and the school's carving students has more than doubled in recent years, says Mason.
Asked about the potential sensitivities of teaching Māori art to non-Māori students, Mason defers to tohunga, or master carver, Dr Pakariki Harrison, who had taught whakairo to women and people of different ethnicities as early as the 1970s.
"Everybody knows that we need to progress with the future, and that's teaching everybody who comes to the school, sharing the knowledge," he said.
Mahdi and Ali are two young men hungry for that knowledge.
"I don't think you have to be Māori to learn whakairo or Māori language. The same way you don't have to be Afghan like me to learn my culture, my language. So you can always learn new things, and the more you learn, the better you become as a person," Ali said.
The Ringa Toi Student Exhibition runs September 23 to October 2 at the Asteron Centre in Wellington.