Marks of an Ancestor
By using some of the iwi's senior artists to record the whakapapa of the land,
Ngāi Tahu Property has created an iconic development that reaches back to
the past with a modern approach.
Liesl Johnstone reports.
One of Ross Hemera's steel light globes telling the story of Hakitekura.
Pouwhenua rise out of earth like the trees they are carved upon. They symbolise the ancestral ties of the people of that region and tell stories of greatness and survival.
When Ngāi Tahu Property embarked on its Post Office Precinct project in the heritage heart of Tahuna, or Queenstown as it is better known, it saw an opportunity to implant Ngāi Tahutanga into a commercial landscape.
Artist Ross Hemera, a key creator of Ngāi Tahu elements for the Tahuna precinct, believes embedding the tribe's stories within public spaces is "one of the most sensible and admirable things we could do on behalf of the iwi."
Ngāi Tahu Property CEO Tony Sewell and development manager Gordon Craig have been core players in the Post Office Precinct project.
"Usually people think of pouwhenua as a fairly traditional totem pole or some other carving which adorns a building and commemorates certain whakapapa associations," says Craig.
"What we have placed into this development is a far more contemporary interpretation of the pouwhenua concept."
He refers to several recent inclusions in the precinct: a large pounamu mauri or touchstone relocated from a special local site, seven dramatic steel light globes or surrounds for the precinct's piazza, and glass art depicting the story of a famous wahine toa from Kāti Māmoe, Hakitekura.
Hemera's artistic interpretation of her story has been sandblasted onto 36 glass panels of a balustrade alongside the precinct's stream. Similar examples of Hemera's work can be found in the glass panels at Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu's headquarters at Te Waipounamu House in Christchurch.
The imagery continues with three storeys of stained glass panels, which face the street, from the newest, most recently completed of the precinct's buildings, Te Ahi.
Hemera depicted aspects of Hakitekura's story, selecting such themes as water, swimming, fire and landmarks.
"Dad would take my brother and sister and I to these amazing limestone caves and outcrops with rock art. They were created about 500 years ago by my tīpuna; the nomadic Waitaha people. These are actually some of the earliest drawings ever done in Aotearoa.
"The work is as beautiful as any imagery you'll see anywhere in the world. Dad would leave us there with sketching pads while he went a little way off, fishing. I can honestly say I've learned as much from these rock drawings as I have from my years of tertiary study of fine art."
Craig says the essence of pouwhenua, the notion of placing design-based markers on Ngāi Tahu properties, has been in the pipeline for only the past couple of years. "The idea's essence is that iwi will be able to visit a site and see an obvious connection with their own heritage."
A blessing of the precinct took place on September 25, which Craig describes as a "momentous occasion for a significant site". An external piazza storyboard to explain the precinct's artworks as part of the Hakitekura story should be finished by October.
Finishing work continues on the post office precinct in Tahuna.
The Tahuna project has been in the works for the past decade, so the placing of pouwhenua here has "been a case of playing catchup," says Craig. "In future property projects, we'll have our iwi concepts, designs and story-boards worked out from the outset." Hemera says the project is "a good model of how to logically take our collective aspirations forward; to sustain our culture for our future generations. The ways in which we express ourselves while referencing the past is actually a treasure we need to continue to develop, and to go on expressing in current ways."
Regarded by many as an iwi visionary and luminary on early Aotearoa rock art, Hemera, the associate professor in the College of Creative Arts at Massey University has rūnanga affiliations stretching across much of Te Waipounamu. He says his work on this has been a valuable way of learning more about his tīpuna and whakapapa.
Working group spokesperson Eruera Tarena (Ngāi Tūāhuriri) sees the merging of pouwhenua and commercial property as an exciting precursor to many more property endeavours.
Tarena stresses the importance of remembering Ngāi Tahu's past occupation and activities in Whakatipu-wai-māori, which is the original name of the lake.
Aside from the artworks that will adorn the precinct, each of the buildings will take on a Māori name associated with Hakitekura.
Hemera believes the act of naming is synonymous with consecrating a place and will hold meaning for generations.
Tarena's vision for this and future projects is to install iwispecific artwork within the permanent materials and structures "as a touch-point for telling our stories.
The ways in which we express ourselves while referencing the past is actually a treasure we need to continue to develop, and to go on expressing in current ways.
a key creator of Ngāi Tahu elements for the Tahuna precinct
"We've got a wealth of wonderful stories and legends handed down to us, and it's important that we don't tell them all in one precinct. In this spot we're telling one of them – that of our famous ancestor, Hakitekura."
Hemera and a group of Ngāi Tahu artists presented plans to Ngāi Tahu Property. As part of the process, the artists' group met with local rūnaka to identify appropriate themes to be explored. Included in the group was Tuahiwi-based master carver Fayne Robinson (Makaawhio), along with digital artist Rachael Rakena (Kāti Wheke, Kāti Waewae), who currently lectures in Māori visual arts at Te Pūtahi a Toi, the school of Māori studies at Massey University. Rakena, along with fellow artist Brett Graham, were chosen to exhibit at the 2007 Venice Biennale. Additional group members are Rānui Ngarimu (Waikouaiti), Tui Falwaaser (Ngāi Tūāhuriri), and Tā Tipene O'Regan (Awarua) who is the iwi historian for the group.
Robinson and Rakena take a philosophical, guiding role on the precinct's design team. Both are firmly in favour of promoting a benchmark of excellence for Ngāi Tahu artists, as well as lifting iwi presence.
To Robinson, pouwhenua is about learning the whakapapa of the region; about identifying ourselves. "We've got a beautiful history, so it's time Ngāi Tahu was seen as well as heard."
The form that pouwhenua might or should take is the key challenge seen by Rakena. "The question to ask now is whether we want to be out there with our art such as placing neon Ngāi Tahu rock art onto the skyscape or whether we use very understated markers like a texture on a hand-rail, or plants with iwi significance such as cabbage trees. Obviously we have to do what's in keeping with each environment, but there are choices to make nevertheless."
Meanwhile, the Post Office Precinct is already attracting attention. Recently Ngāi Tahu Property won an excellence award for the re-fit of the old courthouse, which was designed by F W Burwell from Invercargill and built in 1875, making it the oldest building of the precinct.
Now home to the Guilty Bar, the Property Council of New Zealand said it won the award for "propelling the past into the present". Listed by the Pouhere Taonga (NZ Historic Places Trust) as category 1, the judges also commented on the exceptional degree of co-operation between all parties, including Ngāi Tahu Property with Pouhere Taonga, Mike Marshall-Harrington Architects, Jackie Gillies Architects and engineering professionals. The Guilty Bar also sits adjacent to another award winner, the Pig and Whistle pub, which received a merit award from the same council.
According to Tahuna conservation architect Jackie Gillies, both Ngāi Tahu Property and the new tenants were keen to embrace the building's heritage and, to a large extent retain its original character. Many parts of the courthouse's internal partitions were permitted to stay. Also, the original judge's podium, witness box and dock dating from the 1870s are still there, even if bits of these now house sound gear needed by the resident DJ.
"There are probably a few judges turning in their graves," Gillies admits, but adds that the space is now "quite superior to all other bars and restaurants in Queenstown".
- Keri Hulme
- Hei Mahi Māra / Gardening
- He Whakaaro /
- Ngā Take Pūtea /
- Kai / Recipes
- Te Aitaka A Tāna Me Ona Taonga
- Te Ao Te Māori
- He Tangata
Issue #44 Published Sept 2009
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