Photo: Koro Don (Te Rakauoteora Te Maipi) with the exhibiting artists and tutors.

Maori Arts Degree student weavers from the Palmerston North campus of Te Wananga o Aotearoa have invoked the “sacred stitch” used in woven panels to showcase their work in an exhibition at Waikanae’s MAHARA iti.

Tumatakahuki is the culmination of three years of study and practical work at the Wananga, the only one in the world to provide a degree course in Maori weaving.

MAHARA iti Director Janet Bayly says Maori weaving developed from practical items such as baskets, clothing and fishing nets, and over time came to be recognised as a prized art form. 

“Over the centuries, it has evolved from its practical origins into a wonderful art form. Today the work of weavers is rich in story-telling and symbolism and an important element in the flourishing of Maori culture. 

“We are privileged to exhibit the work of weavers starting out on their artistic journey.”

Nine weavers, all women from a variety of backgrounds that include Maori, Tokelauan, Rarotongan, Swiss, English, Scottish and Welsh have contributed to Tumatakahuki

The exhibition’s centre-piece is a framed tukutuku panel, Te Huihui-o-Matariki which the class completed last year as a group project. 

“Each tauira was given one of the nine stars of Matariki to represent in a small tukutuku panel,” says course tutor Adrienne Spratt. “We then put them together to create this piece.”

Tukutuku panels were once part of the traditional wall construction of a meeting house (wharenui). The art form had almost died out by the early 20th century until it was revived along with other Maori arts and crafts in the second half of the century.

Other exhibits include individual tukutuku, kete, cloaks, jewellery, wall-hangings and poi. Students have used natural dyes and materials from nature such as harakeke (flax), cabbage tree leaves, skins, feathers and teeth.

Emily Gavan, who has English and Scottish ancestry, is exhibiting a collection of pre-colonial personal adornments using sharks’ teeth and weka feathers from the Chatham Island as well as some of her own children’s teeth.

At the exhibition opening, Margot Bennetts who has Scottish, English and Welsh ancestry, spoke for her fellow weavers. “It’s been both exciting and frightening to put the mahi on display,” she said. “MAHARA iti is a beautiful space and an honour to have the exhibition here.”

On behalf of the class, she thanked the families of weavers for their tolerance — weavers using traditional materials are sometimes a challenge to live with, she explained — “clogging up the vacuum cleaner” being a good example.

Adrienne Spratt said that the programme encompasses all aspects of Maori weaving, exploring the diverse range of customary practices from fibre-weaving and plaiting to lattice-work.

Covid and working through lock-downs had made the course challenging for the weavers.

During the first two years of the course the weavers learn tikanga, technique and processes skills. In the final year they produce a work or collaborate on a larger work. 

They also learn curatorial skills to enable them to curate an exhibition.

The exhibiting artists are Cassandra Archer, Constance Mason, Emily Gavan, Fiona Mackie, Maliana Walker, Marjorie Nikora, Margot Bennetts, Miranda Bush, Ratahi Tamatea.