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Following her heart in study and art

August 11, 2020

Toihoukura student Maia Keane with two pieces of her art in the Whakaoho exhibitio. (photo supplied by Gisborne Herald Paul Rickard)

A young woman from Auckland has come the full circle back to her roots in Muriwai, Tairāwhiti in her journey to follow her heart. 

 Maia Keane is a second-year student at Toihoukura making her way through the Te Toi o Nga Rangi degree – Bachelor of Māori Visual arts.

 “I grew up in Auckland but my whakapapa is here in Muriwai, I used to come back here every holiday.”  Now living in her childhood holiday home, Maia is relishing her study which has been a start to connecting to her Māori roots. “I went to mainstream schools, but I jumped on any opportunity to do anything Māori.” 

A connection with Toihoukura – EIT Tairāwhiti’s Māori Art and Design School – began when Maia joined a Māori Visual Arts vocational academy at Rutherford College in West Auckland.  The tutor was Jeff Ruha, who grew up on the East Coast. “We actually came here on a trip to look at Gisborne Boys’ High School’s carving shed, which my tutor was keen to get for our school.”  Maia is proud this proposal went ahead after she left school and her sister is now enjoying using it.  Her tutor encouraged her to apply for Toihoukura and she says this has been the best decision.  “I have been doing really well. I’m proud that I can be an example for the kids coming through the academy, showing them that you can pursue a career in Māori visual arts. It doesn’t matter about your background. 

“At first I didn’t think this would be the place for me. I ‘ve had quite a colonised upbringing. I wasn’t fully immersed in tikanga Māori and felt I didn’t have the right foundation to succeed.  “But I am Māori, I represent my generation and all of my influences. My art is based on traditional toi Māori, but re-worked to represent my perspective”

The 20-year-old initially had a narrow view of her career options.  “I thought I could only do teaching but I now have a job at the museum and I am exposed to gallery or museum work . . . there are many avenues. I didn’t think I was good enough to be an independent artist but since being here I have sold pieces at exhibitions. “It is really exciting when people respond to my art.”  “It is up to me where I want to go. I know I will teach at some point. I have to, but that might be when I am much older.”