a celebration of 30 wāhine creatives of te matau-a-māui

Among these pages, 30 wāhine unknowingly reveal the deep poeticism of their creativity

the kaupapa;

This was a quiet project curated over the summer and it is genuinely exciting that folks are able to hold this tāonga in their hands and admire the absolute totality of all the incredible creatives that grace these pages. Wāhine Toi is not solely a celebration of women, it is a celebration of the diversity in Te Matau-a-Māui creative community and the vibrancy of these pages reflects how alive and colourful the arts are here. 

When you are an artist, you will notice how exclusive these spaces can be and how homogenous they are. Creative spaces often centre whiteness and it’s very loud in this community. However, all voices and lived experiences create community and everyone needs a seat at the table. This kaupapa is absolutely a response to that exclusivity.

This tāonga is a collaboration by mana wāhine;

Words & editing by Rosheen FitzGerald

Layout and design by Alexandra Dawson

featuring;

abbey merson • alexandra dawson • ashley mertens • cherie meerlo • cherry boomb • claire sadler • eve kireka • hannah bancroft • holly morgan • jade hodgson • kay bazzard • kezia whakamoe • kristyl neho • margot pierard • morag shaw • nephi tupaea • niwa brightwell • parehuia jeana shepherd • purewa macgregor • rachel burt • rae west • raewyn patterson • renee wanikau • rosheen fitzgerald • sam carter • sandi hickey • scarlett eden • sophie watkins • tarisse king • tori-analee houkamau

Wāhine Toi

Ākina sits above a body of water. The Makirikiri stream flows beneath our feet, from its source in the Ruahines through the heartland of Hastings. A century ago town planners sent its waters underground, diverted under the surface to make way for bricks and mortar, asphalt thoroughfares to accelerate the speed of progress. The stream was largely forgotten by the bustling feet unknowingly walking over its path. At Takapau, Māori land leased by the crown was abused as a municipal dumping site, inflicting significant damage. But restoration is taking place. Upstream the land and waters are being cared for by council in partnership with iwi. Here in Hastings, the stream is honoured and acknowledged in the new building’s design.

Putaanga Waitoa’s kaupapa and process in producing Wāhine Toi, a book celebrating female creativity in Te Matau-a-Māui, can be seen as analogous to the story of this stream. She takes as her subjects thirty female artists across a broad range of disciplines. Rather than seeking out the most famous faces and names from the Bay’s creatives, she chose to shine a light on those not always in the spotlight, those whose work has been diverted, driven underground to make way for the status quo.

Though some of her subjects were friends, many were at first strangers to her. Through having the sorts of robust conversations that will change the world, she discovered a web of unsung creativity beneath the surface of Te Matau-a-Māui. Then she trained her expert lens on these wāhine, often visiting them in their creative and domestic spaces, opening a window into their worlds.


Wāhine Toi’s imagery displays Putaanga’s exquisite eye at its finest. She really sees her subjects, capturing their essence within their image. That she is able to imbue her portraits with a confluence of both mana and vulnerability is testimony to her ability to make connections, to tell stories by showing.

Wāhine Toi’s imagery displays Putaanga’s exquisite eye at its finest. She really sees her subjects, capturing their essence within their image. That she is able to imbue her portraits with a confluence of both mana and vulnerability is testimony to her ability to make connections, to tell stories by showing.

 

These wāhine are diverse, not just in ethnicity, but in the nature of their work. There are painters and performers, sculptors and jewellers, writers and weavers, photographers and tattooists to name a few. Within categories there is a vast diversity of styles and approaches and processes.

This distinctness is reflected in the group exhibition that accompanies this important tāonga. The book takes pride of place in the window, flanked by Kezia Whakamoe’s bird wing rākau and abstract wooden sculpture by Claire Sadler. Nephi Tupaea’s Tapu Tinana reigns regally opposite, a verbose piece of wearable art exuding mana. Kay Bazzard’s fired figurative sculptures flank the entrance, staring sphinx-like into each other's eyes from across the room. Sophie Watkins’ dynamic, colour saturated self portraits meet us head on. A small multimedia installation showcases props and costume from the Fucked Up Family Circus. In the alcove Abbey Merson’s vast floral portrait picks up the pinks of Rae West’s resin kiss. A rare treat, Tarisse King’s painting marries traditional First Nations People practices with her own contemporary twist. Sam Carter’s beautifully presented finely detailed portraits, too combine old and new in a completely different way, contrasting and complimenting. Observing us obtusely from the corner are a pair of paper pieces – rough edged and sharply drawn characters by Alexandra Dawson, aka Severley.

Pride of place goes to the gallery wall, each wāhine immortalised in portraiture, beautiful and true. At their centre, the wāhine who started it all, Putaanga, fittingly captured by her tamāhine. Exhibited on a gallery wall before her tenth birthday, this wāhine toi in the making will come of age in a space and place where she is free to be heard and seen, unmaligned by the arts establishment. This is the gift and purpose of this mahi, this important piece of activism. Toi in te reo means both art and knowledge. This tāonga is both a work of art and an archive of knowledge, a snapshot of time and place from a previously unseen perspective. In highlighting these wāhine, their stories, their mahi, they are elevated, their mana restored. This work represents a departure from the tired script of the old guard. Instead we get to reimagine a world where we all have a place at the table, a place to be seen, heard and celebrated.

— Written by Rosheen FitzGerald