Textile artist, quilter and educator, Maungarongo (Ron) Te Kawa — described at his exhibition opening as ‘a national treasure’ — has returned to MAHARA with a selection of his whakapapa quilts along with the work of women he has inspired through his workshops.
His Star Relations exhibition of whakapapa quilts and Te Aio o Te Atiawa, Here-Turi-Kōkā, opened at Waikanae’s temporary district gallery MAHARA iti on 18 July and will be on display until 9 September as MAHARA’s celebration of Matariki.
Opening the exhibition, highly respected quilting artist Katherine Morrison described Ron Te Kawa’s work as ‘stunning, contemporary Māori art’.
‘Ron, you and your work take my breath away,’ she said. ‘It is visually rich, but also imbued with the culture, knowledge and story-telling of the tangata whenua o Aotearoa.’
Ron Te Kawa has exhibited quilts as part of MAHARA Matariki exhibitions in the past, but this is his first solo exhibition at the gallery.
Acknowledging the contribution to the exhibition made by past workshops participants, Katherine Morrison talked about the importance of his teaching.
‘Your classes teaching people to make their own whakapapa quilts are so good,’ she said.
‘As human beings, knowing where and who we come from reassures us of our place in the world and gives us a sense of self.’
In 2019, Ron Te Kawa was named Adult Community and Education Aotearoa Māori Educator of the Year.
‘Sewing is a sacred practice to me,’ he says. ‘As an artist I’ve got a responsibility to uplift my people and share.
‘Through sewing, I can connect to myself and make a sacred space. I can draw on the energy of nature (Hine-te-iwaiwa) and I have my river of champion ancestors near me.
‘That’s what my sewing workshops are all about.’
Ron Te Kawa’s tribal affiliation is Ngāti Porou. In an interview with the NZ Herald, he described his quilts as a metaphor for love, safety and security.
‘They don’t go on beds, they are wall hangings,’ he said. ‘I just want to wrap my people in love, hugs and stories.
‘I want them to be the middle of the story. I also want Māori to be able to see themselves.’
Katherine Morrison says it has been wonderful watching Ron Te Kawa’s quilts earn a national reputation and, latterly, attract international interest in the form of scheduled exhibitions in Norway.