Blessing of Rongotai subway and murals

25 October 2018

The new sea-themed murals on the entrances to the subway below the airport runway were blessed and celebrated at a ceremony this morning (Thursday 25 October).

Rongotai College students at launch of subway mural

Rongotai College students, Weta Workshop Art Director Paul Tobin, and artist Sheyne Tuffery

The murals – which feature real and imagined sea creatures and vessels –  were blessed by Mark Ormsby and Pekaira Jude Rei representing Taranaki Whānui.

Wellington Mayor Justin Lester spoke, and senior art students from nearby Rongotai College, who worked with award-winning Wellington-based artist Sheyne Tuffery and Paul Tobin from Weta Workshop to help come up with the design, also took part.

The murals, painted by Tuffery with assistance from the students, are part of a project funded by Wellington City Council. They were planned in association with Wellington Airport and the Miramar BID (Business Improvement District), which played an important role in helping to bring the different parties together.

The subway upgrade has included the installation of new security cameras and brighter, more energy efficient lighting. An electronic counter has also recently been installed, which will provide ongoing information on the numbers of people on foot and on bikes using this route.

In September, it recorded a total of 11,171 people on foot – an average of 372 a day, and 7966 bike trips – an average of 266 a day.

Mayor Justin Lester says the new sea-themed public artworks have significantly enhanced this part of the neighbourhood, and a key walking and biking connection.

“It has also brought life and meaning to the names of the suburbs on each side, and helped to 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.

The mural on Te Motu Kairangi – Miramar Peninsula side of the subway represents mythical aspects of the sea, and was also influenced by the Spanish name, Miramar, meaning sea view.

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 it is fantastic to see it adding character and colour to this area and being used more 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 is now becoming apparent to the students involved as people have begun using and noticing 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 is more about the real, while the Miramar side is more about the myths, the fantastical, humorous and other worldly.

Weta Workshop Art Director Paul Tobin says it is always a tremendous pleasure for Weta Workshop to have the opportunity to support and collaborate with a new generation of artists.

“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.