“I like the idea of Te Reo Māori flying high, imbued with meaning and culture centred in wellbeing. To me, these works form a pathway of healing for everyone that visits, so they can summon the healing energy for their loved ones if they need it.”
Charlotte Graham (Pare Waikato, Pare Hauraki) created a series of flags designed to bring the healing energies of Tangaroa (god of the sea) Tāwhiri-mātea (god of the winds) through Britomart’s nine blocks. Here, she speaks to Britomart’s Jeremy Hansen about her work, entitled Te Hau Whakaora (the healing winds).
Jeremy Hansen: You know Britomart well, because a couple of years ago you made your work Te Waiora here. How did you conceive of this new work that’s part of Toi Tū Toi Ora?
Charlotte Graham: I was asked to create a series of haki or flags for Te Ara Tahuhu, the lawn on Takutai Square and the Atrium on Takutai. After researching our Maori haki and thinking about them and what realm of the atua they sit within, I decided to create a series that is about providing a connection to the elements – to the water and the wind in particular – and to give the people that see them a clearing, a healing release. As I was doing this, i was thinking of my Mum, June Erica Graham (Pare Waikato), who’s not been well, so when I look at this work I’m summoning some of this healing energy for her, too. The work is dedicated to her.
Your work takes a text-based form. Can you tell me about the words you chose for it?
My work is often text-based, and often has a healing tone through it. As the flags fly with the air, they move within the realm of Rangi, the sky father, and Tāwhiri-mātea, the winds. There are two types of flag. The letters on the first and last two haki, IOEAU, form the four pou, the four corners that surround the Arawai or water pathway. Within IOEAU the letter I is the connection of Rangi and Papa, the sky father and earth mother, and O refers to the cycle of life. Io refers to the supreme being and the spiritual realm, and Au to the physical realm. The word loosely translates loosely as “I am of Io”. I hand-painted the works that were photographed and printed as flags, and chose a palette of 12 colours to reference the 12 heavens in multiple koru forms to symbolise life and growth. The colours themselves are inspired by the paua that was once found on these shores.
And what about the other words, which share the ‘Wai’ prefix?
The select kupu Māori in this series of haki recall the waters that once flowed in Britomart, which is built on reclaimed land. Wairea means the clearing waters, Wairua the spiritual waters, Waiora the healing waters, Waitapu the blessed waters and Waikato the flowing waters. I wanted to refer to the healing waters through the positive affirmation of using Te Reo Māori language, raising a healing consciousness through the power of the word. I like the idea of Te Reo Māori flying high, imbued with meaning and culture centred in wellbeing. To me, these works form a pathway of healing for everyone that visits, so they can summon the healing energy for their loved ones if they need it.
You’re part of the Toi Tū Toi Ora satellite exhibition at Britomart, and you’re also part of the exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. How does it feel to be working with so many other Māori artists on this show?
It’s an amazing opportunity to sit within Toi o Tāmaki with a resonant group of contemporary Māori artists. It’s filled with excitement. It’s a great opportunity to invite all your whānau and your friends to come and see what a showcase there is on the contemporary Māori art continuum.
What is the work you’ve created in the gallery?
At Toi o Tāmaki I produced an installation work called Homai Te Waiora ki ahau, which is a collaborative work in the gallery’s Creative Learning Centre. It’s comprised of manu or birds, speech bubbles and positive affirmations. It invites visitors to make rubbings from my drawings and build a forest in the space together over the duration of the exhbition.
As well as being an artist, you work in the Māori mental health space. How does your art fuel your work there, and vice versa?
Working in Māori mental health was a progression from creating an art practice over 15 years that involved politics and healing, and indigenous discourse. I’d been doing that for years and then because one of my favourite things is looking at healing modalities and things like that, I can incorporate that at work. You absorb what is in your environment or in your life. Looking at wellbeing, those things interweave together, these things that we do in life. I go walking, that’s a mirimiri off Papataūānuku, you get blown by Tāwhiri-mātea, and things get blown off your shoulders. You get in the water, it takes everything off your tinana. It’s honouring our Māori ways of healing and connecting.
Te Ara Waiora was commissioned by the Britomart Arts Foundation in collaboration with Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki as part of Toi Tū Toi Ora, the landmark exhibition of contemporary Māori art.
More about Toi Tū Toi Ora Britomart Satellite: To read about Lyonel Grant and Tim Gruchy's work SCOUT: Wawata Hōhonu, click here; to read about Lonnie Hutchinson's work Aroha ki te Ora (Lover of Life), click here; and to read about Shane Cotton's work Maunga, click here. Toi Tū Toi Ora Satellite is the first event of Auckland Unlimited's Summernova festival series, designed to wrap around Auckland's hosting of the 36th America's Cup and bring the entire region to life from December to March. Learn more at Summernova.co.nz