19 Aug 2009
For jeweller Areta Wilkinson moving from Auckland to Oxford (one hour out of Christchurch) has been an easier transition than she ever imagined. The Ngai Tahu artist made the move south a year and a half ago and says it feels like "coming home".
Areta's latest work, Waka Huia, recently exhibited at Mary Newton Gallery in Wellington continues to investigate Māori concepts and themes around Māori identity and family histories. The large china cabinet, a modern waka huia, holds the jeweller's work, each piece elevated on a red velvet cushion. Individual pieces of jewellery hold a collective memory or a history that relates to Areta, her whanau or her community. Some of the Waka Huia korero are provided by Teone Taare Tikao (1850-1927), Areta's grandmother's grandfather, who was a Ngai Tahu leader, scholar and politician. Ranging in form from flora that hold significance to Ngai Tahu to an exquisitely crafted cowboy hat (the form holding a personal reference to her partner).
As one of New Zealand's leading contemporary jewellers Areta is keen to encourage other Māori to enter this field. She refers to the rich history that Māori have as makers of body adornment that reaches beyond easily recognisable forms. Early forms such as cloak pins and necklaces point to innovative designs and technology not fully explored by contemporary Māori jewellers to date. Being back in Te Wai Pounamu has given Areta the opportunity to connect with Ngai Tahu history and to further explore this in her work.
A highlight of the Waka Huia project for Areta has been the production of the Waka Huia catalogue which she funded herself. The artist sees this catalogue as a mark of being at a stage in her career where she can be less reliant on public funding. Acknowledging the support she has had from Creative New Zealand, Areta says the earlier support has led her towards a more sustainable career as an artist.