• Home
  • News
  • Toihoukura graduate combines mechanical engineering with design to create tradition artwork

Toihoukura graduate combines mechanical engineering with design to create tradition artwork

October 24, 2023

Heremaia Barlow is combining traditional Māori art with mechanical engineering to create artwork.

A Toihoukura graduate, who also did a certificate in mechanical engineering at EIT | Te Pūkenga, is using that knowledge to create work using traditional Māori techniques.

Heremaia Barlow (Ngāti Hikairo, Ngāti Whātua) enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts (Māori) at Toihoukura, the School of Māori Visual Arts at EIT | Te Pūkenga, in 2019. He followed this up with  the New Zealand Certificate in Mechanical Engineering L3 last year.

His focus in recent months has been an exhibition at the Tairāwhiti Museum., with one of his exhibits fabricated while studying at EIT|Te Pūkenga.

Heremaia, who is a full-time artist and also teaches in the Trades Academy at EIT | Te Pūkenga, says he was excited to share this exhibition, his first solo one, to show the journey of his growth in toi Māori.

Ataata is a reflection on the origins of whakairo and its journey through history, noting the inevitable changes incurred through the introduction of western tools and materials.

Retelling the pūrākau of Ruatepupuke, the origin story of whakairo, Heremaia Barlow endeavours to continue this narrative by asking, where to from here? Influenced by Raharuhi Rukupo, Cliff Whiting and Lyonel Grant, Heremaia makes his own journey through mediums pushing his own skill set and boundaries to a new horizon.

Since beginning his whakairo journey, he has employed traditional techniques of shadow-casting with steel chisels on native timber. Quickly realising that native timber is becoming a rare commodity, Heremaia has chosen to use similar techniques, with newer readily available materials such as MDF, acrylic and mild steel to create with.

Heremaia says he enjoyed studying at Toihoukura, despite it being in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“We did go through COVID-19, so that was an interesting experience, in the end it did affect my final exhibition meaning my family couldn’t be there. But otherwise, besides that, it was an overall great experience.”

Heremaia, 31 grew up in Auckland and says that he wanted to study at Toihoukura since he was a teenager.

“It’s got a reputation throughout the country for Māori Art and produces some of the best Ta Moko artists today.”

He says that moving down to Gisborne had initially been quite hard.

“I didn’t have any family or friends here when I moved down. Also, the housing situation’s pretty tough. Especially when I came down, trying to find a boarding situation wasn’t easy. So, I just packed my stuff into my car and drove down and managed to find somewhere to stay in the day that I got here.”

After five years, he’s made Tūranganui a Kiwa home. He says the decision to study mechanical engineering was a natural progression.

“I’ve always been into cars and working on them. I think of myself as a tutu, so an opportunity to create artwork out of metal was an exciting proposition.”

“The idea behind it was to upskill into a different medium. People think it’s weird to go from art to engineering, I know I can adapt the skills and methods from the course and apply them into my art practice.”

“And if you look at the current landscape of public art, especially Māori art, it’s all going towards steel – the corten steel look. So, I think this is an opportunity to bridge the gap between Māori art and mechanical engineering.”

Tracey Tangihaere, the Executive Director of the Tairāwhiti Campus of EIT|Te Pūkenga and Acting Head of Toihoukura, says: “Heremaia is an excellent role model for potential students, as he has made a commitment to develop his creativity and always maintained his focus on creativity, entrepreneurship and health and wellbeing.”

“He has made a fantastic contribution to our Trades Academy Programme Pikitoi with our secondary school students. I am sure Heremaia will do well pursuing his dreams.”