It's a three-dimensional representation of the journey each student has carved for himself while studying but the Whao graduate exhibition has a dual meaning.

The exhibition also marks the end of intensive study for three New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute's most recent graduates.

The exhibition at Āhua Gallery showcases the work of Te Takapū o Rotowhio (New Zealand Bone and Stone Carving School) student Reeve Hokopaura, as well as Lenny Boonen and Tairoa Morrison from Te Wānanga Whakairo Rākau o Aotearoa (New Zealand Wood Carving School).

All three men graduated from New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute two weeks ago.

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While all three have carved works for the Āhua gallery throughout their time studying, this is their first formal exhibition.

Morrison said learning the art of whakairo (carving) had given him the skills to retell Māori stories in a different language.

"It has also given me the tools to be able to pass on this taonga to our next generation. My passion is in the education sector."

Lenny Willem Hauraki Boonen. Photo / Supplied
Lenny Willem Hauraki Boonen. Photo / Supplied

Boonen was just 18 when he began studying at the carving schools and said the experiences, insights, and people he studied with had shaped him into the man he was today.

Hokopaura said studying at Te Takapū o Rotowhio was the perfect fit for him as it gave him the opportunity to learn all aspects of stone and bone carving, including the history, traditions and meanings of designs, patterns and styles of the Māori arts.

"I decided that if I have to contribute to the global economy, it might as well be doing something that I enjoy and am passionate about."

New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute general manager Eraia Kiel said the exhibition was symbolic of the future each student has created by studying the craft, as well as the path each of them has already travelled.

"The exhibition is a great way to celebrate what these men have achieved, but also for the wider public to see carvers in the schools working and then the finished products from our graduates."

Kiel said the exhibition had a wider purpose to maintain and foster the taonga of traditional skills.

"Our role teaching students Māori arts and crafts is a key part of our Government mandate."

Whao is open at Āhua Gallery until June. Rotorua locals can get free access with a Whānau Card.