Artists weave magic for Waitohi

31 August 2020

Through a pandemic, long distance learning and restricted access to resources, Maureen Lander’s new artwork in collaboration with Te Roopu Raranga o Manaia, a Wellington harakeke weaving group, will be ready for installation at Waitohi Johnsonville Hub next month.

Te Roopu Raranga o Manaia, a Wellington harakeke weaving group, works on Whetūrangi with Maureen Lander

The Wellington City Council commissioned site-specific artwork Whetūrangi started its journey earlier in the year, then the impacts of COVID-19 meant access to flax was limited, and Maureen who lives in Whangamata had to continue workshops online.

“Following lockdown we were constrained, firstly by not being able to work and learn together, and secondly by not having easy access to suitable flax with enough leaf length to fit the required architectural dimensions.

“Unless we had our favourite varieties growing in our own gardens we had to make do with what we could find on walks during lockdown.

“Te Roopu Raranga O Manaia has been a wonderful group to work with. They took on all the challenges I gave them at every level. From the start they continued to weave through lockdown using notes and photographs I provided electronically as guidance. We held zoom sessions in place of physical workshops and it was very much a case of learning by sharing helpful tips with each other.”

The concept for the artwork evolved in relation to the ‘forest’ evoked by the architecture and colours of Waitohi, along with the timing of the weavers’ final wānanga at Hikoikoi (Petone) on the cusp of Matariki 2020.

Whetūrangi is a very fitting artwork for the Waitohi/Johnsonville Library as it speaks to its place in the community says Mayor Andy Foster.

“This new artwork will further contribute to the area’s Māori heritage and historical forest context already very well reflected in the interior design, and recently recognised in the prestigious NZIA local architecture awards. This new addition will be a big feature of the cultural environment as it welcomes visitors at the entrance.”

Born in Rawene, Hokianga, Dr Maureen Lander (Ngāpuhi, Te Hikutu, Pākehā) is a leading exponent of raranga (weaving) and installation art. She has exhibited, photographed, written about and taught Māori art since 1986, and was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2020 for her services to Māori art.

The installation of this artwork by such a well-recognised artist is a major coup for the Waitohi site says Māori Partnership portfolio lead Councillor Jill Day.

Wheturangi is a wonderful example of a collaborative community approach with a strong emphasis on tikanga Māori.

“Maureen and the Te Roopu Raranga O Manaia group of weavers from Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington) have really embraced the traditional and contemporary practice of raranga toi Māori – and we’re proud to have helped facilitate that.”

The artwork will be installed and have an official blessing ceremony on Saturday 12 September, followed by an artists’ talk at Waitohi.