News | 7 May 2024
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Painting stories across the hallway of Wellington

Pōneke-based artists, Tracy Underwood (Ngati Raukawa) and Ruth Robertson-Taylor are the minds behind the three vibrant new murals in Berhampore, which can be found on the corner of Adelaide Road and Luxford Street, on the wharepaku (toilet) block, and the side of the BP station. They collaborated closely with students from Wellington East Girls' College, as well as with family and others artists, including Porirua-based artist Tuakana Holmes, to create these vibrant murals.

Painted murals on steps outside a bar.

How did the two of you meet? 
Tracy: Ruth had enrolled in a Te Reo class that I was in, and we just got talking. She said that she was an artist, and I was like, ‘so am I!’. Many years later, she asked if I wanted to do a mural with her. I found out that Ruth went through her phone to see who she could work with, but she had lost all her phone numbers and the only one left was mine. It was meant to be! We’ve now done four and a half murals together.   

Ruth: The first mural we did together was pretty amazing. It was at Linden School and there were lots of interruptions and road works from when Transmission Gully was in progress. They wanted to make the boundary wall look less industrial, so they asked us to make the area brighter. 

Tracy: We’ve done more murals for a couple of schools and other projects, and now we’re here. 

Tell us about your careers – how did you get started in the creative industry? 
Ruth: I moved to Porirua in 2008 and randomly, someone came to visit my husband who is also an artist. They saw my work and asked if I wanted to take part in a big mural project happening at the Porirua railway station. I said ‘why not’ – it turned into something I really enjoy.   

Tracy: Initially I wanted to become an artist but due to family circumstances, my life took a different turn until recent years when I returned to art. My two passions have always been horses and art. In a former career I used to be a horse trekking guide in the Tararua Ranges!  

Mural on the side of a building.

You’ve painted three murals in Berhampore. Can you start by telling us about the meaning behind the wharepaku mural? 
Tracy: So on one of the days we were checking out the surface of the wharepaku, we saw horses parked outside Sprig and Fern. That’s what inspired us to add them into the mural – we found out so much about what horses mean to the area. The universe knows I love horses! 

On the mural there are mamaku (tree fern) in-between the horses. Back in the day, Berhampore would’ve been covered in mamaku. Horses were the early form of transport, and Māori taught the bushman how to take the skin off the plant to care for and heal saddle sores on the horses. The mamaku trunk has the aramoana motif which is used to denote the 'pathway to the sea'.  

Ruth: We have also included kohekohe flowers, which are native to the area and a symbol of Matariki. It signifies the birth of the new year but is also healing for women. It’s a very decorative and beautiful plant. In this context it symbolises the revitalisation of the suburb. We were thinking this is a new start for Berhampore and a new energy for people.   

Painted picture of a young boy and his auntie on the side of a petrol station.

What about the BP station?  
Ruth: We came up with the idea of using a flutist, as I was trying to think of something that could connect to every culture. It’s a universal instrument. There's no culture in the world that doesn't have a flute. It speaks to the diversity and creativity of the suburb. 

Tracy: Alongside the flautists, we have my auntie teaching my moko (grandchild) how to weave. My auntie has a connection to the area, and my moko is Thai and Māori but grew up in Australia. He recently stayed for several months, and it was his kuia (great grand aunt) who gave him his first experience of traditional weaving. He loved connecting with his culture and this image shows that transmission of knowledge. 

Group of people consisting of two adults and six students, all wearing high vis vests.
Ruth (far left) and Tracy (far right) with students from Wellington East Girls' College.

You worked closely with students from Wellington East Girls' College on the third mural on the corner of Adelaide Road and Luxford Street. Tell us more. 
Ruth: We had a different process with the students. We heard Berhampore being described as the hallway of Wellington, and every hallway needs some wallpaper. So we based our workshops around work by Betty Isaacs, an early twentieth century wallpaper designer, and the students all came up with their own designs. They then created stencils by making their own wood cuts and painted them over two days on-site! They were very talented. 

What makes you feel connected to Berhampore? 
Ruth: My stepdaughter lives here so we’re always visiting her. I really like this suburb and it’s grown on me even more now that I’ve gotten to know the community. Because the work we do is so public, it can go both ways and get a lot of pushback. But here, we haven't had a single negative comment. Everybody has gotten more and more behind us. 

Tracy: The people here are awesome!  We even had a woman who was so thankful for the work, she gave us money for coffee, and people brought us easter eggs. We’ve had a really warm response.  

Penguins painted on the side of a bench.

How do you work in partnership during the mural process?  
Ruth: We’re both involved in the design process and have an ease with each other when it comes to working. We work fast. We did the design on the corner of Adelaide Road in about 10 days!  

I think there's something nice about it being done on the spot too, like not just digitally produced. It’s much more relational – you respond to the site, and continue to adjust the design as you go, in real-time.   

Tracy: We just make it work. No matter what happens, we deal with it. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn't. But we also we know our deadlines and we're both focused on that goal. We have a bottom-line respect for each other. We have a ground rule that we will always be friends. No problem is ever going to get in the way of us!  

Ruth: At the end of the day, it's for the public. I mean you always have that wider goal of why you want to do the work, but you get it done because it’s beyond you. 

Painted horses on a red background.

What would you say to someone who is wanting to get started in the arts? 
Ruth: I was very shy. Art was the one thing that I could kind of do well and I just really enjoyed it. It was kind of like my bridge between me and the world as a child. Now it’s the biggest part of my life. It’s never too late to get started, just continue to build. 

Tracy: Look after yourself first – not even just with art. Whatever your dream is, you need to just go for it. Then don't give up. You’ll get there.  

The idea for the murals came directly from the community co-design working group, which the Council set up to identify priorities for the village upgrades. One key item that continued to be discussed was the importance of murals in Berhampore, and the need to bring the community together through storytelling. Find out more about murals on our website.