Tāhaku Irika is ancient in form and futuristic in application. The old days present in the way the waiata moves through space and the future manifested in the high definition recording. Like hearing a karanga projected out from dawn's mist, or the sound of Nan's kettle on the boil, or how you know it’s mum's car pulling up by the rev of engine, Tāhaku Irika (like everything in this exhibition) is an ancient Māori touchstone birthed seamlessly into the 21st century.
Made of Parāoa and cord, Maheno, a taonga Heitiki floats on a handmade mount, literally glowing through an open doorway into the limitless void near the back of the gallery. She appears as a shining beacon, nestled in the darkness at the far edge of the exhibition. Named by Kiri Jarden (Turumeke's mum) and living as an emblem of endless time, Maheno had us captivated. For days and months after seeing the show, I saw visions of her — her eyes sparkling in the darkness.
At the opening for Paemanu: Tauraka Toi at Dunedin Public Art Gallery, I saw Maheno again — around Turumeke's neck on top of a breezy linen suit. Later in the day, I spot Kiri wearing her. Maheno glows — the mauri instilled in her a collaboration of carver and commissioner, its roots extending to the beginning of toi itself.
Maheno, with her serrated paua eyes and forked tongue embodies the living mātauraka all of us Māori inherited from our tūpuna, whether we know it or not. Her carved head and body traces her whakapapa to places like Kaiapoi and Hawaiki. All of the artworks in SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) testify to the ability of culture to move through time and technology.
The whakataukī ‘Ehara i te tī, e wana ake’ is about how, unlike the tī kōuka, we don't regenerate if our heads are cut off. I wouldn't survive if my head was cut off, but in many ways, we do live on through our whakapapa. Our lives extend forward and backward through time, as we position ourselves in the context of our bloodlines. Often it is said that as Māori, we never walk alone — our tūpuna are always with us, beside us, in us. When we are called on to marae through kāranga, wairua swirls all around, encompassing us in a whariki which is never unwoven or lost. The cyclic nature of time means we cannot be separated from all the tamariki in our whānau, never removed from our whaea and matua, always linked to the nans and koros, rendering us immortal. We all return to Hine-nui-te-Pō and feast with our tūpuna.
Like the tī kōuka, we sprout from the still weeping wounds of our tūpuna. Because of whakapapa, every time the colonists try to take us out we come back — again and again and again. When they fuck up a vaccine roll out, we're practicing mutual aid and taking them to court.
Being a breeder can be complicated. SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) called out to us — whakapapa will anchor you in stormy seas, so your waka doesn't over turn and litter the beach with kete full of your kūmara.
SPECIAL TIME (Ehara i te tī) was one of those exhibitions, proving to me that we are literally undefeatable. Whakapapa is undeniable.