At the opening of 2017’s Matariki exhibition, Waiheke Community Art Gallery’s Māori name ‘Te Whare Taonga o Waiheke’ was dedicated and a mauri stone, embodying the life force of the gallery, unveiled. The idea for the stone, said sculptor Paora Toi Te Rangiuaia, came from Ngāti Pāoa kaumatua George Kahi who, as cultural advisor to the Gallery, had worked long and hard to have the name put in place.
On Friday 26 February, at the opening of the Tira Haere exhibition, another stone was dedicated, this time to George, the punga (anchor stone) an appropriate tribute to the man who had mentored and worked closely with the gallery on many projects.
Among these were the three exhibitions he co-curated with Sylvia Nelson, highlighting our history and promoting the continuation of a discourse around the Treaty of Waitangi, which was signed by Ngāti Pāoa rangatira from Waiheke, Hauraki Gulf and Waitematā at Karaka Bay in 1840.
“It was about giving artists,” says Sylvia, “the opportunity to research and discuss things that were historical, topical and set here in the Hauraki, the Waitematā and Tāmaki Makaurau. George also wanted to make visible Ngāti Pāoa as mana whenua historically – residing in Tāmaki prior to the signing of the Treaty with their history including long occupation of territories from Mahurangi down to Thames and the parts of the Waikato and Coromandel from the voyaging of the Tainui, and as mana whenua today. He had a belief that artists can be at the vanguard of thinking – able to take risks through their art that others are often not willing to do.”
The decision to have a punga with its loaded symbolism, which can include the anchoring of identity, came from a conversation between Lorna Rikihana (Kai Raranga muka; Ngāti Pāoa, Waikato-Tainui) and Sylvia at George’s tangi. The realisation of the work followed, through a fortuitous meeting with carver Darren Ututaonga Rippingale (Kai Whakairo kōhatu, Ngapuhi, Te Arawa) who sourced the stone from Taupo through which the Waikato river flows, thereby having strong Tainui connections. Lorna and Puawai Ormsby (Kai Raranga; Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui) gathered flax from the Waikato and wove the muka cordage and gallery director Linda Chalmers had the completed work placed in the centre of the gallery. In the artist’s statement, Lorna notes that the punga is a traditional whakahuahuatau (metaphor) and clarifies the three themes that contributed to the creation of this work: the setting up of a regular Treaty of Waitangi exhibition by George, Ngāti Pāoa and Sylvia; the Tira Haere exhibition celebrating navigation, migration and the cultural diversity of modern Aotearoa, and the honouring of George’s concept of binding together people, Whenua and Tangaroa. “This punga has been created to acknowledge those that have passed on and sown the seeds of transformation for each of us to find our own personal anchor points within our identity. It acknowledges George Te Aroha Kahi, Mana Whenua kaumatua of Ngāti Pāoa, Waikato-Tainui, and the humility, entrepreneurial spirit, vision and nurturing that we fondly remember him for.” • Sandra Chesterman
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