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Panels at Te Papa en route to New York

July 20, 2014

The Minister of Māori Affairs, Dr Pita Sharples, at Te Papa with some of the weavers and their whānau for the opening of Kāhui Raranga The Art of Tukutuku: Aotearoa New Zealand’s Heart at the United Nations. Photograph © Mike O’Neill 2014.. Image courtesy of Te Papa

Fifty Tukutuku panels destined to hang in the United Nations Headquarters in New York, have this week been exhibited at Te Papa in Wellington.

For Gisborne’s EIT Tairāwhiti senior lecturer and master weaver Christina Wirihana, who coordinated the project, it was an emotional opening of Kāhui Raranga The Art of Tukutuku: Aotearoa New Zealand’s Heart at the United Nations.

“Having the panels at Te Papa means they are being celebrated properly in a really good environment for the nation to view,” she said. “It can’t get any better than Te Papa.”

And the “beautiful space” that has been allocated gives the audience an appreciation of the magnitude of the project in its entirety.

The project was started in 2010 and undertaken through the Jack Lawless Whānau Trust. In July 2013, the panels that were created by Tairāwhiti artists and Toihoukura students were unveiled and blessed by Professor Derek Lardelli then farewelled from Māia Gallery. Included in the project were Glenda Hape, Denise Te Hau, sisters Fiona and Claudette Collis, Te Rangi Kutia-Tataurangi, Ani Leach, Elizabeth Kerekere and Toni Sadlier – a combination of staff, as well as past and current students in 2013.

Toihoukura is the Māori contemporary art division of EIT Tairāwhiti in Gisborne.

They were to be installed in the UN General Assembly in September, but a delay in the refurbishment of the area has pushed that date out.

The Minister of Māori Affairs, the Hon Dr Pita Sharples, who has guided the project stepped in to ensure the panels would be viewed by a wider audience instead of in storage.

“New Zealanders have a rare chance to see this unique and special collection of works, created on a scale that is nothing less than remarkable for their time,” he said.

Dr Sharples thanked the weavers for the stunning taonga they had created.

“This is undoubtedly one of the most breath taking and unique exhibitions of tukutuku ever displayed and New Zealanders should make every effort to view and enjoy the panels before permanently leaving our shores,” he said.

Forty top New Zealand weavers created the panels, and in part, they are a record of the artists, their stories and where they come from. Several of those weavers joined more than 100 others at the special exhibition opening.

“It was quite unbelievable,” said Wirihana. “There were people coming from everywhere. It was a time for us to reflect the moment when we first engaged (in the project).”

By her own admission, it was a big project for her to lead, but Wirihana said she learnt to pace herself and draw on other people’s skills.

“I was the glue to ensure every element of what had to take place was met.”

The exhibition will remain at Te Papa Tongarewa until November 1 when it will again be prepared for shipping to New York, and for an official blessing in February.

The tukutuku panels – measuring 1350mm x 650mm x 60mm – will hang permanently on New Zealand’s wall in the United Nations Headquarters in New York. As a founding member state, New Zealand gifted the wall to the United Nations in the 1950s, and it takes pride of place adjacent to the entry of the General Assembly Hall.