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Artists revealed for Aotearoa's largest mural

New Zealand’s soon-to-be largest mural now has mastermind artists behind it, preparing to bring it to life in January 2020.

A group of visual artists operating under the name Te Wheetuu Collective were recently selected to tackle the 248m long canvas.

Three visual artists, Poihakena Ngāwati (Waikato Tainui), Hana Maihi (Waikato Tainui, Ngāti Whātua, Ngai Te Rangi), and Te Haunui Tuna (Ngāi Tūhoe) make up the collective.

Poihakena Ngaawati, a Hamiltonian, muralist and Wintec graduate, grew up in close proximity to the concrete eye-sore and is keen to finally see it transformed 

“This project will be transformational for the city both as contemporary creative expression and as a commentary on the wall’s history,” says Ngaawati.

“It is the last trace of a hill known as Te Koopuu Mania o Kirikiriroa (the smooth belly [or womb] of Kirikiriroa),” he says.

The original site was of major importance to the Waikato region serving as a hub for cultivation, learning and ceremony 

Pre-1930, the extremely fertile land meant the area became a cultivation-capital and main food source to surrounding tribes. The site was also a key observation platform where Maaori watched for certain star constellations marking appropriate timing for different phases of planting and harvesting.

 On the ridge’s peak, a tuaahu (ceremonial altar) was used to call resident deities to bless the planting of crop and ensure a bountiful harvest. A final ritual was performed to remove tapu from the hill before the hill was excavated in 1930 to allow for better traffic flow between Anglesea St and Ward St.

 Ngāwati says, “We wanted to tell the story of this particular hill and use the mural to acknowledge the historical wahi pa (local site), explain why it was valued and important for surrounding tribes, and make a commentary on how we can use these learnings for our future.”

 Te Wheetuu Collective’s mural concept incorporates the Waikato River, three tui, and a female portrait depicting Matariki as the mother of the hill and master of the Maaori lunar calendar and cultivation.

The piece has themes of guardianship, whakapapa, and unity woven behind the imagery. 

Individually, the three artists have travelled as far as  Hawai’i, Rarotonga and across New Zealand painting large-scale murals.

Te Koopuu Mania o Kirikiriroa will be their first work as a collective.

“We have been wanting to integrate narratives into our art and create more meaningful pieces with portraits and characters that tell the stories of traditional Maaori heritage.

“We also wanted to pass on knowledge our great ancestors before us have left behind,” Ngāwati says.

The collective are excited to get started, “With the site history and our connection with the land here, we’re grateful for the opportunity.”

The project is driven by the Beyond Tomorrow Trust with Creative Waikato managing the creative process.  

Beyond Tomorrow Trust Chair, Ryan Hamilton, says a public call for artists to apply for the project was made earlier this year.

A selection panel of arts professionals and a representative of tangata whenua chose the Te Wheetuu Collective from a wider application pool.

Hamilton says, “We believe the Te Wheetuu Collective understood the significance of this area and will best represent that through a sensitive and inspired work.

“Art has to be something that captures our past, reflects our future and represents who we are,” he says.

The collective will start work on the wall in early January 2020. 

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