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26 Nov 2019

Cross-cultural arts collaboration strengthens indigenous voice

Artists from around the globe will descend on the Waikato this week for a nine-day hui to celebrate indigenous culture through art.

The ninth International Indigenous Arts Gathering will take place on 21 November – 29 November and is expected to become a melting pot of cross-cultural collaboration.

In total, 120 expert artists with deep roots in indigenous culture will meet at Tuurangawaewae Marae, Ngaaruawaahia, to share experiences from as far as Tahiti, Guam, Cook Islands, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

The gathering is run by the Maaori Contemporary Visual Arts Committee, Te Ātinga, who focus on linking Maaori with contemporary art development, leadership and innovation across the pacific and beyond.

Te Ātinga Deputy Chair, Margaret Aull, believes the gathering is a great advocate for the presence of indigenous art in curriculum, public spaces and infrastructure plans.

“It shifts the framework of the value of art and artists in the country. Artists are just as important as our teachers and doctors, in fact, it is a rongoa (traditional Maaori medicine) and embedded in maatauranga (knowledge),” she says.

She is confident the international gathering will foster the growth of the Waikato as a creative region and will contribute to the development of an economic basis in the arts.

The 2019 theme is Puhoro ō mua, Puhoro ki tua which nods to the speed, strength and dexterity denoted by the puhoro koowhaiwhai pattern.

“Like a tidal current, the puhoro brings into view distant horizons where we can share ideas and collaborate with one another. In doing this, we are also able to reflect on the past and move in unison to future horizons,” says Aull.

Workshops and studios will provide artists with space to share their unique skillset and will facilitate cultural innovation. Works will immerge in painting, sculpture, digital, fiber-arts and clay, including one piece which will be gifted to Tuurangawaewae.

Other events associated with the gathering include an open studio day, workshops for high school students and an exhibition.

Puhoro ō mua, Puhoro ki tua exhibition at Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato is set to be the most significant indigenous exhibition of the year.

The inaugural gathering in 1995 at Apumoana Marae, Rotorua, signaled a new wave of connection with the knowledge, skill and belief systems of indigenous cultures. Since then, the gathering has also been hosted on international shores including Hawai’i and, most recently, in Washington.

“It is an honour to continue the work started by our cultural leaders Sandy Adsett, June Grant, Cliff Whiting and others who recognised the need for an environment where artists could explore and create new material and celebrate cultural ownership inherited through whakapapa and exchange,” says Aull

She also believes the reflection and collaboration fostered by a gathering like this is vital for indigenous cultures to thrive and builds confidence to create and innovate.

“In Te Ao Maaori, toi (art) is a seamless part of our culture. Creativity and innovation are natural.

“We activate maatauranga (knowledge) and translate this in line, color, shape and form. Or it is done through song or performance. Art is our identity and an important part of how we understand ourselves.

“We acknowledge the mana and tupuna these people bring as artists,” says Aull.

This year, the gathering will be held at Tuurangawaewae Marae to recognise the work of Te Atairangikaahu (late Maaori queen) as an important patron and supporter of Maaori visual arts.