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Exhibition links our world with the past

exhibition links our world with the past

Fresh, like cut grass, wafts of raw harakeke greet you as you enter the gallery. It’s a bit surprising inside what is normally a sanitised museum environment.

 In the gallery, nets, anchor stones, rocks embellished with feathers or spouting forth woven muka adorn the room.

 In this context you could be forgiven for thinking that you have come across age old taonga. It takes a wee while to figure these objects serve a different purpose.

 Their creator, Atareta’s Rerekohu Black, comes from a whānau of weavers and fishermen and her practice draws on knowledge of net making and ways of working that come from tīpuna she descends from.

 In 2020, under the guidance of her kuia and mentor Dante Bonica, Atareta started exploring traditional Māori fishing nets as an art form, focusing on the construction techniques of kupenga.

 Made from harakeke and stone, Atareta uses meshing and twisting to create sculptural forms that draw on mātauranga Māori.

 The art works in this exhibition also owe a lot to the taonga held in the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection. They are a response to that collection, the result of a research trip made to Te-Matau-a-Māui to see first-hand taonga tuku iho in the offsite collection store. By working closely with taonga tuku iho, Atareta creates art works that connect through whakapapa to the taonga in our collection.

 By using the collection as a start point, Atareta gives these heirloom taonga and the tīpuna who created them presence in the Museum’s gallery space – it’s a way of connecting the contemporary world with those who lived in the past.

 Invited by MTG Hawke’s Bay to exhibit, Atareta has shown in public and private exhibition spaces a number of times since leaving Auckland University where she studied fine arts having graduated from Hukurere Girls College.

 The title of the exhibition Ki Uta Ki Tai comes from the whakataukī “From the land to the sea” Atareta says “This whakataukī reflects my work quite literally, in the sense that the materials I use are from the whenua but kupenga themselves are made for the sea. So my works embody this whakataukī of being from the land to the sea.”

 Atareta whakapapas to Ngāti Kahungunu in Wairoa, Ngai Tūhoe, Ngāti Ruapani and Moriori of Rēkohu.  As an uri of Kahungunu, Atareta was able to provide a contemporary iwi voice that sits alongside stories explored in MTG’s longterm exhibition Kuru Taonga: Voices of Kahungunu.

 The notion of the artist working with the museum collection is not new. Historically artists have drawn inspiration from museums and their diverse collections as a basis for studies and finished works. This kind of exhibition project adds richness and depth while adding a new interpretative dimension to the material itself.

 The power of this storytelling offers a huge amount of potential for museums. It’s clear that contemporary art not only makes our interpretation more vivid, but it can reveal lost or unseen stories, building understanding and creating meaningful connections with our visitors.

 Ki Uta Ki Tai is on display at MTG Hawke’s Bay until 23 April next year.

By Toni MacKinnon, Curator Fine Arts at MTG Hawke's Bay.

14 November 2022

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