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Unleashing moments of creativity: Enriching the lives of young mothers and their tamariki

Emiko Sheehan at Ramp Gallery during a painting workshop with the community during her summer residency for her community-building kaupapa Wāwāhi Tahā. 

It's all based on tikanga Māori says Emiko Sheehan (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato, Tūwharetoa, Raukawa, Ngāti whaoa-Ngāti Tahu, Japanese) who has developed a community-based art collective for young mothers called Wāwāhi Tahā and is taking part in the summer residency at Ramp Gallery holding workshops and gatherings for the community.

“Wāwāhi Tahā" comes from the whakatauki “Ta te tamariki tana mahi wāwāhi tahā”. It is the child’s job to smash the calabash. Wāwāhi tahā, smash the calabash, a challenge and a provocation for creativity from our tamariki” explains Sheehan. “Children are treasures. Their thoughts, they hold mana, and their opinions are counted as relevant, they show us the future, or they have that connection to the wider world so we can be led by them a lot,” she says.

For Sheehan this residency has been about having kids alongside mothers to create and expose them to creative experiences. For children to see their parents happy and creating and by giving them rich environments to be around, it becomes part of everyday life.

Over the summer, the gallery has transformed into a vibrant studio where creativity thrives. A loom leans against one wall, while a dynamic painting on another wall continuously evolves with time. The studio is filled with the presence of clay, muka and textiles, which have been prominently featured in the workshops.

“We've had a few clay and printmaking workshops with lino cuts, leaves and flowers workshops. Our sewing workshops looked at our pepeha and we’ve had spontaneous creativity emerge in moments from different visitors.” says Sheehan.

Sheehan says her art practice was different before she had her first child and that being a mother has influenced the way she creates and the themes she explores in her work.

“I feel like my practice changed completely. When I became a mum, it just seemed more important that I created.” she says. “Before having a kid there was a bit of pressure or insecurity around my art practice, but then after having my baby, I don't care about that stuff anymore. It was really freeing because I didn't have any expectations and so whatever I felt like making I would just jump into it whenever I had the opportunity.”  

The community building aspect of Sheehan's work came about when a brief that encouraged community activations from Creative Waikato piqued her interest. Her application was successful and in 2023 she took part in Whiria te Tāngata, a multi-community artist in residence pilot that aimed to enable artists to practice and develop work with and through their communities while receiving a stipend for the year.

As a new mother living in Te Aroha at the time, she recognised the need for more creative connections and support in her life. With the aim to foster these connections and enhance her creative journey, she made the decision to move to Kirikiriroa/Hamilton.

“I knew some people in Hamilton who just had babies. So I was like, I know that there's a community where I can start pulling together different kinds of artists. So it was about coming together to create, but I think the community was the driving force, the more important thing was to find those other mums, the first-time mums, that was useful, really helpful as well,” says Sheehan.

“I feel like mums represent a lot of the community and projects and everybody's really keen to support mothers. I just needed to put my proposal out there,” she says. “Everybody was like, yes, they want to help this kaupapa. There are so many opinions around mothers and all the things they do and it's a hard time as well. But there's also a lot of people open and willing to help mums out. So if there's funding opportunities, and you want to go for it, everybody seems very open to the idea”. 

It’s not always the easier option to have kids around when we’re creating, says Sheehan, but this project has taught her to find a rhythm and to be flexible. “There were some times where we had activities that the moms were more into it than the kids and I wouldn't be creating if the babies were kind of stopping some of the mothers from creating, I would try and babysit more. Or we would take turns where somebody was kind of occupying the kids more often.”

Sheehan emphasises the importance of including children in creating a space for them to express their creativity alongside their mothers, as it not only promotes positive parent-child relationships but also strengthens the community.

The residency concludes on Thursday, 25 January with a closing celebration open to the public, where the artistic creations from the residency will be showcased and exhibited. 

Closing Hakari/Celebration
4.00pm, 25 Thursday, January 2024 
Ramp Gallery

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