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Artists revealed for Aotearoa’s largest mural

Three Māori visual artists Poihakena Ngāwati, Hana Maihi and Te Haunui Tuna are about to tackle NZ's largets mural on the Wintec wall.
One of Poihakena Ngāwati's recent works is a stunning portrait of master carver George Nuku, that graces a wall in Hastings.

New Zealand’s soon-to-be largest mural now has mastermind artists behind it, preparing to bring it to life in January 2020.

A group of visual artists operating under the name Te Whētū Collective were recently selected to tackle the 248m long canvas on the site known as the Wintec wall.

Three visual artists, Poihakena Ngāwati (Waikato-Tainui), Hana Maihi (Ngāti Mahana), and Te Haunui Tuna (Ngāi Tūhoe) make up the collective. Poihakena and Te Haunui are Wintec School of Media Arts graduates.

Poihakena Ngāwati, a Hamiltonian, muralist and former Wintec student, grew up and studied in close proximity to the concrete eye-sore and is keen to finally see it transformed.

“This project will be transformational for the city both as contemporary creative expression and as a commentary on the wall’s history,” says Ngāwati.

“It is the last trace of a hill known as Te Kōpū Mānia o Kirikiriroa (the smooth belly [or womb] of Kirikiriroa),” he says.

The original site was of major importance to the Waikato region serving as a hub for cultivation, learning and ceremony.

Pre-1930, the extremely fertile land meant the area became a cultivation-capital and main food source to surrounding tribes. The site was also a key observation platform where Māori watched for certain star constellations marking appropriate timing for different phases of planting and harvesting.

On the ridge’s peak, a tuāhu (ceremonial altar) was used to call resident deities to bless the planting of crop and ensure a bountiful harvest. A final ritual was performed to remove tapu from the hill before the hill was excavated in 1930 to allow for better traffic flow between Anglesea St and Ward St.

Ngāwati says, “we wanted to tell the story of this particular hill and use the mural to acknowledge the historical wahi pa (local site), explain why it was valued and important for surrounding tribes, and make a commentary on how we can use these learnings for our future.”

Te Whētū Collective’s mural concept incorporates the Waikato River, three tui, and a female portrait depicting Matariki as the mother of the hill and master of the Māori lunar calendar and cultivation.

The piece has themes of guardianship, whakapapa, and unity woven behind the imagery. 

Individually, the three artists have travelled as far as  Hawai’i, Rarotonga and across New Zealand painting large-scale murals.

Te Kōpū Mānia o Kirikiriroa will be their first work as a collective.

“We have been wanting to integrate narratives into our art and create more meaningful pieces with portraits and characters that tell the stories of traditional Māori heritage.

“We also wanted to pass on knowledge our great ancestors before us have left behind,” Ngāwati says.

The collective are excited to get started, “With the site history and our connection with the land here, we’re grateful for the opportunity.”

The project is driven by the Beyond Tomorrow Trust with Creative Waikato managing the creative process.  

Beyond Tomorrow Trust Chair, Ryan Hamilton, says a public call for artists to apply for the project was made earlier this year.

A selection panel of arts professionals and a representative of tangata whenua chose the Te Whētū Collective from a wider application pool.

Hamilton says, “We believe the Te Whētū Collective understood the significance of this area and will best represent that through a sensitive and inspired work.

“Art has to be something that captures our past, reflects our future and represents who we are,” he says.

The collective will start work on the wall in early January 2020.

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