News | 1 May 2023
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St James Theatre the perfect backdrop for new mural

A new mural on a wall of the St James Theatre by artists Keri Mei Zagrobelna and Tina Rae Carter has been officially blessed and revealed for all to see.

Top corner of St James with cherub from mural in forefront with Courtenay Place in the background.

Keri Mei (Te Āti Awa, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) and Tina collaborated on the development of the mural design commissioned by Wellington City Council, to tell a story about the dual history of the site.

Drawing on their experience and whakapapa they created a work that responds to the heritage of the area and to the theatre itself.

The title of this mural is the well-known Māori whakataukī, Kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua, which translates as walking backwards into the future.  This whakataukī speaks to the site and to the kaupapa of the artwork, that we should look to the past to inform the future.

The artwork begins at the south end of the wall at the mouth of Te Waimāpihi awa from a symbolic representation of a moko kauae down into and along the ground, feeding the wetlands and propelling forward the giant tuna (eel), known as Waitangi that spans the length of the wall.

Iwi called the awa Wai-Māpihi, the stream or bathing place of Māpihi, a local chieftainess of Kāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tara descent. Within the mouth of the awa stars appear with the cluster of Matariki on the left, and Puanga on the right. [1]

St James mural showing eel and curtains.

There are a series of dancers at this end too. The first showing the way down the laneway, the others weaving in and out of the Raupō (Bulrush) and Ponga, as an acknowledgement to Patupaiarehe, fairy-like people who live in the forest, or Ponaturi – another fairy people who live in the sea and who come onto land at night.

The dancers were inspired by archival photos from the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). They also reference and celebrate the purpose of the Theatre as home to the RNZB and host to the performing arts, reflecting the talent within this heritage arts venue. 

At the Courtenay Place end of the mural a large curtain swings down and across the wall forming a protective korowai (cloak) and drawing attention to the artwork along the laneway.

Not only do murals add a sense of creativity and vibrancy to the central city, they provide a proactive approach to reducing graffiti. Art in a public space gives the impression an area is ‘cared for’, that there are eyes on it, thus reducing the likelihood of crime or vandalism taking place.

The programme for murals around the city aligns with the values of the Pōneke Promise, through the revitalisation of public spaces it contributes to our goal of a safe, vibrant and welcoming city.