News | 13 March 2023
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He Kura Tipua, He Kura Kairangi: A deep dive into Pokau’s artwork

The reds and yellows of the new mahi toi (artwork) at the transformed community centre in Strathmore draw attention, but that’s just the beginning of the experience.

Mana whenua artist Pokau Kato Te Ahuru (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāruahinerangi, Te Āti Awa), chats about his work at Te Tūhunga Rau, and its unfolding meanings.

Person standing infront artwork.

Can you talk about the colours to start with?

I drew on a traditional palette. People have this idea that Māori colours are just red, white, and black, but pre-colonisation there were other colours. There were different types of berries for yellow tones, and ochre from paru (dirt or clay). There are many options in the choice of yellow – there’s a type of miro that’s an orangey-yellow, almost gold, as opposed to bright kōwhai yellow or pīngao yellow, which can look brownish.

I wanted a tone that wouldn’t be over-powering, but would create an impact. The colours are also similar to how the Tino Rangatiratanga flag is layered in reds, blacks and whites, with that whakaaro (thinking) you know – Te Kore, Te Pō is the darkness, coming into Te Ao Marama, the light, and then the red being the connection back to Papatūānuku, the whenua (land). 

Artwork on wood panel.

And what about the meaning of the elements?

These were drawn heavily from tukutuku patterns because in those designs there’s rich kōrero. I wanted to reflect that kōrero and the association of abundance, in Motu Kairangi (Miramar Peninsular) through the use of those designs. Pre the 1855 earthquake, when the land rose at Te Ākau Tangi, Motu Kairangi was a separate island from the mainland. There are three tukutuku patterns used – the Niho Taniwha, the Kaokao and the Pātikitiki designs.

For Niho Taniwha – these are the teeth-like shapes – they refer to the realm of mythology and a chief’s lineage from the Gods. In this context it talks to the abundance that Motu Kairangi provided to our tupuna traditionally. There was Te Roto Kura, which was the lake situated where Miramar township is now. This was an area that flourished with many different food sources, so it was used as a mahinga kai (food gathering place). It also connects to the Strathmore Community Centre and how that works as a space, that connects people and enriches their experience. 

People standing on the street.

For the use of Pātikitiki – the lozenge or diamond shape of the flounder fish – similar whakaaro (idea). It talks about abundance, richness, how to provide for people, being a good host. These are all roles a community centre should be able to hold onto.

Then Kaokao – it’s about strength. The pointed design of Kaokao comes from the shape of a person in the hī stance, the triangle shape that’s made from your arms. That refers to the community centre being a source of strength to the community. 

I want my mahi to be able to speak to people, and to draw people in. A person can be captured by one aspect, and then as they move closer or further away, there’s another aspect, so it’s layered. As a whole it looks nice, but then as they get closer they pick out other things.

And sometimes after ten years of walking past an art work, you suddenly realise what it means.
Yeah that’s where the ‘kura’ name comes into play. ‘Kura’ is like a hidden gem, ‘kura huna’. It’s like a sacred gem, that has many different meanings or interpretations, and each interpretation is individual to the viewer. That’s where the name ‘He kura tipua, he kura kairangi’ comes from. It’s a treasure, it’s a sacred phenomenon, that we don’t understand, but we hold and cherish, a treasured taonga. 

Tukutuku panels are traditionally used within the construction of marae and cannot be created by one artist alone. They require a collective approach, with people working together to achieve an outcome. Pokau has likened this process to the community centre’s focus of connecting and enriching the people of Strathmore Park. Created in collaboration with Etch Architecture.