09 Oct 2022
This month our Pouarahi Toi, Hāniko Te Kurapa marks 20 years at Creative New Zealand, and whilst he is heartened by the significant wins that have been made for Ngā Toi Māori. He says there is still a lot to be done. He shared some reflections from the past two decades.
Q: What are your earliest memories of being exposed to the arts?
Growing up in Ruataahuna, we had kuia who were experts in whatu kākahu (garment weaving). They were amazing weavers. We also had men who were amazing weavers. Some of these men were better weavers than the women and that wasn’t new because the men would make hīnaki (nets) and weaving was an extension of that.
My father’s sister was a gun at entertaining people. Especially children. Karetao or puppetry was quite big within Tūhoe. It’s an artform that we should be looking at when we talk about these endangered [Māori] artforms; that’s one of them.
Given my experiences as a child, it is no surprise that I ended up working where I am now.
Q: Why are the arts important to the Māori experience?
If we look at our history, we have the story of Tāne Nui ā Rangi and how he retrieved the three baskets of knowledge. Within those three baskets were ngā mahi toi or Māori artforms.
The arts, for me, opens a lot of gateways and pathways. There are the arts around identity and then there is the arts around our wellbeing.
The arts create change. If we look at Kaupapa Māori, it’s the arts that has been the main driver for change. If we are looking at something political, you can voice that through song, through dance, through theatre, through visual arts, through painting and literature. It becomes a platform to do that.
Q: How would you describe people’s attitude towards ngā toi Māori over the last two decades, and has there been a shift?
There has been a shift in the landscape, and we saw this through our survey that we done. Over 1000 people were surveyed.
It found that 80 to 90 percent of New Zealanders were consuming Māori art and wanting more and more of it, you know, so that's a really good picture.
Q: Was it not always like that?
Never. If we go back in our history to the Te Māori exhibition in the 1980s - that really shifted the landscape. We had to exhibit Māori art internationally and be recognised internationally first before we were afforded the same recognition back here. Now we have a lot, Te Matatini, Māori Television, iwi radio stations.
Creative New Zealand has done a lot over the years in terms of pushing the boundaries.
There have been many kaupapa that happened that made it possible to move forward.
Q: There are probably many, but can you share a memorable moment in your time working at Toi Aotearoa?
I can’t go past Muriwai Ihakara who is no longer with us, that man had such a huge presence. He was Te Ao Māori for me. I have to acknowledge him because he was the one who got me into Creative New Zealand.
Before I moved to Creative New Zealand I was at Te Papa curating exhibitions before 1998, before it opened. After curating my Iwi exhibition, the Tūhoe exhibition, I left straight after that.
The way he worked with us was that tūturu (genuine) way of working within a Māori community. He looked for ways that Māori could be represented within the organisation, because at that time it was very little and there he was, leading by example.
E kore ngā mihi e ea i te aroha mōna, me tōna whānau. Moe mai rā e Muriwai.
Q: Creative New Zealand’s organisational cultural programme, Te Kaupapa o Toi Aotearoa – how crucial is this piece of work that you lead?
I think it's very crucial because we are a funding development agency and although we have a ministry (that we report to), we’re still at arm’s length to that ministry. So, it allows us to be flexible and nimble to do things that way we can do.
Creative New Zealand and our governing body the Arts Council have been very brave here to take this kaupapa on board.
It's now linked to the Arts Council charter under People and Culture. What that means is that they will, in terms of governance, be looking at how they might do things differently.
So, there are three principles that have been created as part of Te Kaupapa: Te tuku i te mana, te mana āki i te tangata and the impact of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
Q: How can the sector better support Toi Māori in Aotearoa?
Creative New Zealand is only one little cog in the arts sector wheel. So, when we talk about infrastructure or the lack of infrastructure, I’d say we’re sort of in a safe space at the moment.
However, it could be better.
Better infrastructure around helping our artists in the different artforms and the pathway that might lead to bigger international spaces. We need to grow more and more of that. Te Hā [our Māori arts strategy] does some of that but we need to push more so that our artists can see themselves reflected in those spaces.
Q: Where do you see Ngā Toi in the next ten years?
I see it thriving. The vision of Te Hā and the goal of increasing visibility for the Māori arts nationally and internationally is important, but there is still a lot of mahi involved. We have about 11 Māori organisations in our multi-year investment programme Kahikatea who are doing a lot of that mahi.
We’re at a point where we have to review ourselves in terms of the roles we all play in enhancing Māori arts. We have to be strategic in where we focus our efforts.