Contemporary Maori Art at The Cargo Shed


An exhibition of diverse examples of contemporary Maori art was recently held in the Gallery Space of The Cargo Shed, Dive Crescent, Tauranga.

JAMES ATUTAHI Carver; ROBYN TANIA WILLIAMS Painter; WHARE HEKE, Moana Nui Design; DEBBIE TIPUNA Painter; DANIEL COUPER Artist/Sculptor TAWHAI RICKARD Artist; JASON PORTER Creative; PETE SMITH Carver and TANIA LEWIS-RICKARD Photographer and Painter are the artists collective of the O ARA WHIRIWHIRI: Woven Pathway Multiple Threads One Vision

For those of you not familiar with Tauranga or The Cargo Shed, Dive Crescent Downtown Tauranga; in its former life the shed was indeed a large corrugated iron clad shed with a rough concrete floor built right up to the edge of the sea on reclaimed foreshore. Coastal traders disgorged their contents by hoist and sling aided by “wharfies” with wooden handled hooks to assist the transfer process of sacks and bales. It was a similar process for outgoing cargo. Time moved the Tauranga Wharves and “Port of Tauranga” to the other side of the Tauranga Harbour and for many years the Dive Crescent area of Tauranga was just that, a dive.

The shed has also been the subject of a claim by local iwi. The issue of its status and that of reclaimed land being of interest to all in view of the somewhat shambolic historic formal title-deed recording. Arrangements between iwi and Council are such that a détente or agreement has been reached which enables The Cargo Shed to continue as a Tauranga Council supported entity.

Over the years the area has been gradually resurrected and you’ll now find a prestigious hotel (The Sebel), specialist marine supply shops, a motocross and motorcycle vendor; a coffee roasting cafe, dance and performance studios, the Tauranga City food bank and the best fish and chip shop in the town.

During these years of transition the shed has also had a somewhat chequered career before side-stepping plans to create an antique bottle museum it morphed into an affordable and accessible arts market. From that relatively humble beginning, this Cinderella of facilities has passed through numerous stages of development. It’s improved at every turn thanks to the hard work and contributions of then artist tenants such as Ken Wright and local businesses who have provided materials and supported development projects to create the Tauranga council-supported jewel that it has become today. Run by a collective of the current tenants the shed has been modernised (a process initiated by Creative Tauranga), renovated, primped and painted white to inch of its life. It’s been re-lit, re-signed and revitalised as a series of boutique art and art craft retail spaces; a gallery and when required a performance, event and meeting area. At night the huge original wooden beams of the building must sigh with delight at its continued existence and current physical state.

In this boutique gallery space was an exhibition showcasing the talents of some of the Maori artists of the locality.

The intricately carved and plaited skateboards of James Atutahi remind me of Frizell (the older) Mickey to Tiki works. I love the skateboards and its hard to believe the plaiting is carved wood. Atutahi’s work contrasts with the more traditional carving of Pete Smith and fits neatly between it and the sophisticated and smoothly detailed work of carver/sculptor Daniel Couper. Couper’s “Tuatua” from recycled rimu, paint and ink is so perfectly and strokably finished. The bone carving and bone and wood mounted carving combination exhibited by Cargo Shed tenant, Whare Heke of Moana Nui Designs are excellent examples of the contemporary interpretation of traditional shapes and forms.


Robyn Tania Williams shows precise traditionally patterned painted designs. I love the black and white “Hawaiki”; “Tangaroa”and the sophistication of the precisely decorated gourds. “Feel the love/share the love aroha mai aroha atu” is given a special tick in my writer’s notebook.

I’ve written about my appreciation of the work of Debbie Tipuna and her usually ironically perceptive statements of colonisation and culture meeting. Her work in this exhibition is of a very different style and perhaps not what I would personally want to take home. I do love the guitartiki and would have ongoing enjoyment from that particular work.

Tawhai Rickard has a series of lovely but nastily funny little works referencing colonisation and the Gate Pa-Pukehinahina events. These are both decorative and beautifully executed political statements. When I briefly meet his wife and fellow artist Tania Lewis-Rickard at the conclusion of The Tauranga Public Art Talks Saturday session, I unrestrainedly gush how much I adore her precisely lined and curled paintings and designs.

Lewis-Rickard has exhibited what I consider to be an iconic photographic image of Tauranga kuia Maxine Ngaranoa Rewiti-Ngata. When I’m talking with Whare Heke, who captures images of the exhibition for ARTbop, I suggest that this particular image should be purchased by the Tauranga City Council as a visual reminder of the 2014 commemoration of the Battles of Gate Pa-Pukehinahina and Te Ranga. It would be an ongoing reminder of that tipping point in the development of Tauranga and a lasting acknowledgement of the role of local wahine toa of which Maxine is the contemporary embodiment.

Although not part of the gallery exhibition, I discussed with Whare Heke the works of Bryce Rhodes hanging in the retail area of The Cargo Shed. Every artist I know has what they call their “bread and butter” range and Rhodes had obviously created the works on display with the tourist visitor in mind. I didn’t like them. I’ve written in February about Rhodes stunning work in the Molly Morpeth Canaday 2015 Art Award (in the gallery section of the Whakatane Library and Exhibition Centre until 22nd March 2015) and his work and delightful children’s mural in the Te Puke Library. Do make the trip to Whakatane, it’s worth the effort and you’ll see what wonderful work Bryce Rhodes is capable of. Stop in at the Te Puke Library and check out his children’s mural. (Don’t use the public toilet adjacent to the Library; it’s grim and a disgrace to such a dear little town. Ask the Librarian where the “good” public toilet is – yes Te Puke has one!)

[Note: Thank you to Whare Heke for the photographs of O ARA WHIRIWHIRI. I apologise to members of the artists collective for the delay in writing up their exhibition because it closed on 19 February 2015; family matters.

I would like to suggest that the Cargo Shed liaise with the organising committees of the numerous community centres and halls of our outlying rural/ruburban areas and establish an outreach exhibition programme. My district of Whakamarama was the site of “the bush campaign” of the land wars. We have a central village hall/community centre which would be ideal to host an exhibition such as O ARA WHIRIWHIRI which has the potential to expand the viewing audience of these contemporary Maori art works. An outreach programme also allows the curatorial work done for an exhibition to be maximised.]

Rosemary Balu


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