An exhibition showcasing the unique stories of Rotorua students has opened at the Rotorua Lakes Council Galleria.

The youth of Rotorua's alternative education centre, Kokiri, have created 20 painted works for their Tenei Au exhibition.

The exhibition was opened by Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick and Ngati Whakaue yesterday.

Students Eruera Waiti, 14, Livai Tapu, 15 and Jayden Tihi, 15, have spent the last few weeks finishing off their artwork and were excited for the exhibition.


Eruera said his work was inspired by church.

"I put a scripture in there from the Bible, there's a crucifix and then wording which says Jesus is king," he said.

"People should come and see it because it might be a good influence on them like it was for me."

Livai said people should go to the exhibition because it was something that meant something to them.

"It's a privilege for it to be at council," he said.

His work was inspired by his koro.

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Jayden created artwork which reminded him of himself.

"I have the word up there, mana, because I am strong," he said.

Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Iho Ake Trust chief executive Roana Bennett said over the past six months the trust had come to know the fantastic group of young people at Kokiri.

"Each young person is unique. Each has their own story, their own aspirations. Each has a whakapapa. And each has a full and interesting life ahead of them," she said.

"For Te Taumata to be with them in this moment and for this part of their journey is a great privilege."

Kokiri is run by Te Taumata o Ngati Whakaue Iho Ake Trust and is an iwi response to the relatively large number of Maori students leaving school with no qualifications.

The iwi-led alternative education service supports rangatahi to re-engage with school and empower them to aspire.

Ms Bennett said she wanted to thank the Ministry of Education, the Rotorua secondary schools and the team of Kokiri teachers who brought themselves to this kaupapa "100 per cent of the time".

"Most of all I want to thank the rangatahi. You have taught us so much," she said.

"You are the seeds that were sown in our ancient history, and you are the ones that will carry the mana of our people into the future, into the next generation."

The aim of the art work was for the students to explore their story through the creation of a visual whakapapa, it was an opportunity for them to engage with their emerging adult identity by investigating their heritage.

"After reading the korero that accompanied their artwork we knew that their stories needed to be told," Ms Bennett said.

"What better form of expression than an exhibition here in the beautiful council galleria. This is them. These are their stories.

The exhibition is open until October 27.