News | 25 May 2022
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New exhibition connects Courtenay Place with Te Aro Pā past

The latest exhibition in Wellington’s Courtenay Place light boxes connects the current urban Courtenay Place environment with its Te Aro Pā past.

Woman standing on the street in front of her art.
Tanya Ruka.

“How do we protect and enhance the mauri within an urban environment?” asks Te Whanganui-a-Tara based Māori indigenous artist Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka in her outdoor exhibition Whakapapa Te Pō Te Ao.

Running for Matariki 2022 until 18 September, Whakapapa Te Pō Te Ao turns the Courtenay Place light boxes into a series of digitally woven pouwhenua which are derived from the natural Te Aro and the local environment.

The exhibition acknowledges the whenua (land) and awa (streams) above and below the city streets.

Tanya describes her process as working with the knowledge of the histories of the land, walking back through time with each footfall on the cement. 

“Past, present, and future coexist within the whenua,” says Tanya. “Our tūpuna (ancestors) hold our collective memory, the good and the bad, the light and the dark. We are alive because of them, by acknowledging this truth we enhance the mauri (life-force), and we build our relationships with the natural world even within an urban environment.”

Whakapapa Te Pō Te Ao responds to Matariki as a time to recount the past seasons and set new plans for the coming year.

Guided by the Maramataka, the Māori lunar calendar, Tanya filmed the area surrounding the light boxes once a month during 2021. The focus of the filming was to capture the natural elements as they are now.

Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka at the blessing of her Courtenay Place light boxes exhibition Whakapapa Te Pō Te Ao
Tanya Ruka Courtenay Place light boxes exhibition, Whakapapa Te Pō Te Ao.

Her key consideration was how we experience the three major awa sources – the Waitangi, Kūmutoto, and Waimapihi streams that were once a source of kai and are now below the city streets.

As part of her process, Tanya used her camera to search for ways to connect with the awa underground. 

Her videos included the light through the trees along Courtenay Place, with root systems meeting the awa. She looked at the exposed soil of the preserved foundations at Te Aro Pā visitor centre on Taranaki Street and imagined the course of the whare pongo above ground. 

Tanya then translated her video imagery into digital weavings for the light boxes. One side of the light boxes image references Te Whakapapa o Te Pō and the other, Te Whakapapa o Te Ao. Together, the whakapapa of light and dark capture a story of time unfolding in Courtenay Place from a kaupapa Māori perspective.

Woman standing infront of flowers.

Tanya’s light boxes mahi is interwoven with a number of her other projects.

The Community Rongoā (Māori medicinal) Forest, based in Elliott Park, Brooklyn, is a concept she developed last year.

Planting of the forest is done with the Maramataka (Māori lunar calendar). Rongoā leaves were used in Ruka’s project ‘The Forest Rongoā Teahouse’, where she served traditional Māori medicinal tea amidst photographic and video artworks in a temporary space along Courtenay Place. 

Tea leaves for the tea served at the blessing and opening of Tanya's Courtenay Place light boxes exhibition also came from the forest.  

Tanya, with Ollie Hutton from Mouthful, has also been commissioned by Urban Dream Brokerage to curate eight independent moving artworks screening across eight weeks of winter, named Te wāhi o te papa whakāta. This work will be displayed across from the light boxes, in the window of 106 Courtenay Place during June and August.

Visit the Courtenay Place light boxes on the corner of Courtenay Place and Taranaki Street, day or night, and visit the Council Facebook page for a chance to win a fine art limited print of one of Ruka’s works.

About the artist

Tanya Te Miringa Te Rorarangi Ruka is a Māori Indigenous artist and designer living in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Aotearoa. She is of Ngāti Pākau, Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau, Te Mahurehure Ngāpuhi, and Waitaha Hokianga descent. 

Tanya has a Master of Art and Design from Auckland University of Technology and works as an independent indigenous researcher on projects that seek to elevate indigenous knowledge systems and voices within the environment - this includes connecting with Indigenous nations globally through her work as research communications lead with Native Land Digital.  

Read about our previous Courtenay Place Light Boxes exhibitions.