Rongotai subway gets sea-themed portals

28 June 2018

Sea creatures and ships – real and imagined – will soon transform the subway linking Rongotai and Miramar.

Indicative mural design for the Miramar side of the subway under the airport runway by Sheyne Tuffery in collaboration with Weta Workshop and Year 12 art students from Rongotai College.

Indicative mural design for the Miramar side of the airport subway

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Students from nearby Rongotai College, who are big users of the walking and biking tunnel beneath the airport runway, have worked with artist Sheyne Tuffery, Weta Workshop, Wellington City Council, and Wellington Airport over the past few months to help design murals for the concrete tunnel entrances.

Award-winning, Wellington-based artist, Tuffery began painting the mural today, and weather permitting, it will take about a month to complete. Students will assist with some aspects of the work.

The new artworks are part of an upgrade of the subway which also includes better lighting, new security cameras and a cleaner, brighter interior. An electronic counter has also been installed, which will provide ongoing information on the numbers using this route.

The project has been supported by the Miramar BID, which played an important role in helping to bring the different parties together.

Mayor Justin Lester says the new sea-themed public artworks will significantly enhance the important walking and biking connection and neighbourhood.

“More importantly, they will bring life and meaning to the names of the suburbs on each side, and help highlight the area’s history,” he says.

The land that is now Rongotai is believed to have gradually emerged from the sea as a result of large earthquakes over several centuries, and means sound (or feel, smell, taste) of the sea in te reo Māori. Miramar, which was separated from the mainland, is of Portuguese/Spanish origin and means sea view or sea sight.

The Mayor says the Council’s City Arts and Events team has been working hard on a programme of art on walls around the city. 

“The programme is ensuring striking art can crop up anywhere, even under the airport runway.” 

Wellington City Council’s Portfolio Leader for Walking, Cycling and Public Transport, Cr Sarah Free, says the subway is an important short-cut for people travelling between Miramar and Kilbirnie, and its upgrade is part of a bigger programme to improve neighbourhood connections.

“The subway is close to the existing Leonie Gill Pathway, and will soon also link with safer new bike lanes and paths that will make getting to and from a range of local destinations safer and easier.

“It’s been a functional, but pretty uninviting space till now – so I can’t wait to see it adding character and colour to this area and being even better used by the community.”

Rongotai College art teacher Esmee McAuley says the project has provided an enormous opportunity for the students to learn more about digital and community art, work with practising artists, and to see and be part of a design process. 

“The overall impact it will have on the community I think will only become apparent to the students involved after it is finished and people start using it.”

The senior art students from Rongotai College took part in a series of workshops to help plan the mural, and proximity to the sea was the key theme that came through.

Others were Whātaitai and Ngake – the Māori legend of the creation of the harbour, the film industry, the airport, and likening the action of moving through the tunnel from one suburb to another to going on a plane journey, travelling from one time zone and place to another.

The murals have a similar sea-related theme at each end, but the Rongotai side will be more about the real, while the Miramar side will be more about the myths, the fantastical, humorous and other worldly.

Weta Workshop Art Director Paul Tobin wished Sheyne and the participating students the best of luck in bringing their vision to life.

“It is always a tremendous pleasure for us here at Weta Workshop to have the opportunity to support and collaborate with a new generation of artists – and this was no exception,” he says. “We were hugely excited to see the students of Rongotai College reach into their imaginations and come up with some fantastic artwork that so wonderfully reflects the cultural, historical, and environmental context of the area.”

Tuffery, who is of Samoan descent and grew up in Newlands, has designed and painted a significant number of Wellington murals. These include the two in Coutts Street, the one at the Strathmore Community Centre, as well as murals in Hopper Street in Mt Cook, Mein Street in Newtown, and a 13-panel artwork in Johnsonville.