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Hospital art ‘calming, soothing’

The creatives behind a new indigenous art collection at Wairarapa Hospital hope its universal themes and “inspiring stories” will bring peace and solace to people of all cultures.

Last month, Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa unveiled its Kia Piki Te Ora Art Collection: 34 digitally printed artworks by a small collective of local Māori artists, displayed throughout the hospital corridors.

Kia Piki Te Ora was commissioned by the outgoing Wairarapa District Health Board to mark the transition from DHBs to Te Whatu Ora and Te Aka Whai Ora [Māori Health Authority], and to recognise the hospital’s commitment to Māori health.

The collection, curated by Pahiatua-based artist Sam Te Tau, was intended to uplift the wellbeing of all who passed through the building – staff, patients and visitors alike.

The artists’ brief specified creating works that would be “calming, soothing and inspiring” for the viewer – based upon the whakatauki [proverb], “kia piki te ora, piki te kaha, piki te wairua, piki te maramatanga”, meaning to nourish one’s physical, spiritual and mental health.

With input from hospital staff, artists drew on concepts central to te ao Māori: Including connection with the spiritual world, the soul of nature, whakapapa and genealogy, and traditional healing practices.

Their images incorporated various artistic media – including photography, digital painting, carving and raranga [weaving] – and printed onto 1m by 1.8m canvases.

Te Tau said it was important to him to make indigenous art more visible in the community — benefiting not just tangata whenua, but those from all backgrounds.

“I lived in the Bay of Plenty for years, and Māori art is very present. Whereas in Wairarapa, it’s not as widely seen in our public spaces.

“It’s important Māori feel they are seen and acknowledged and that they belong in our community — including within health services.

“But also, Māori art is full of inspiring stories: Stories of humanity and spirituality that can have an impact on all people. The stories within the hospital collection are universal – peacefulness, connecting with nature, and passing into the next world at the end of our life.

“You don’t need the same DNA to appreciate them. Māori art is for everyone.”

The collection is Te Tau’s second major community art installation in the space of two years – he was also one of the project leads for the new Whitipoua Bridge across the Waipoua River, officially opened in September.

The bridge is lined by 50 engraved paewhiri [totara boards] created by nine mana whenua artists in partnership with Fab Lab Masterton – representing native flora and fauna harmed by environmental degradation.

While working on the bridge, Te Tau was approached by hospital Māori Health general manager Jason Kerehi to curate Kia Piki Te Ora, and assembled a team of artists: Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Wairarapa students Kawana Rongonui and Hine Manaena, weaver Manaia Carswell, multimedia artist Hamuera Rimene and photographer Kendyl Walker.

Each of the works was created with the different hospital departments in mind. For example, the corridor leading to Te Whare Marie [the morgue] is adorned with images representing transition from life to death, including references to Hine-nui-te-pō, goddess of the underworld.

The Medical Social Work area now houses images of woven korowai representing whanau bonds, the chapel is flanked with white raukura [feathers] symbolising higher spiritual power, and the Imaging department is home to traditional poutama designs – representing a “stairway to heaven” or gaining knowledge.

Nature is a recurring theme throughout the collection – including images of the flora most significant to Māori , such as harakeke [representing whakapapa and tipuna], ponga [new beginnings], and kawakawa [a plant often used in Rongoā, or Māori medicine].

Te Tau said the opening ceremony for the collection, presided over by Wairarapa kaumatua Mike Kawana and Te Whatu Ora kaitiaki Tina Brown, was “an exciting moment” for the artists.

“Many of them hadn’t seen their printed works in person. Some of them had never had their works printed on such a large canvas.

“So it was amazing for them to see their works hung in the space — and the visual impact they make. It was so uplifting and satisfying for them.

He said he was initially concerned the project would inspire “some backlash”– especially after the signs explaining the carvings at the Whitipoua Bridge were vandalised.

“I got some interesting comments while I was hanging the pieces at the hospital. Some people thought it was ‘over the top’— and that non-Māori should have been more involved.

“I said, ‘well, if you look at the hospital as a whole, pretty much everything is non-Māori.

“But I’d say 95 per cent of people’s comments have been positive.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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