Art & creativity  |  15 Sep 2022

At your next visit, make sure you look up – a brand new commission from Mata Aho Collective is now swooping down from the skylights and across the foyer at Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

This ambitious installation, Tīkawe, is made up of 530 metres of braided strands of harakeke, or flax. It’s the first work that Mata Aho Collective has created with harakeke, harvesting it from 12 different locations and crafting it over several months.

Curator Melanie Oliver says the long braided bands made from harakeke are known as kawe, and were customarily used to assist in carrying heavy loads from one place to another.

“Māori used kawe to carry everything from kete to stones, materials and even – using a more specialised form known as pīkau – babies,” Ms Oliver says.

“The kawe that make up this new commission are a celebration of the strength and significance of harakeke. Mata Aho reimagine this customary technology through the use of trusty tie-downs – they consider the common tie-down strop to be the modern equivalent of kawe, and have sewn a ratchet to each whiri braid, incorporating an everyday device familiar to many of us into the work.”

Established in 2012, Mata Aho Collective is a collaboration between four Māori women, Erena Baker (Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toarangatira), Sarah Hudson (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe), Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) and Terri Te Tau (Rangitāne rāua ko Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa). Together they produce large-scale fibre-based works that comment on the complexity of Māori lives and the contemporary realities of mātauranga Māori. Mata Aho won the prestigious Walters Prize in 2020 and was recently announced as an Arts Foundation Laureate for 2022.

Generously purchased for the Gallery by the W.A. Sutton Trust, Tikawe will be on display until late 2023.