You may notice a significant light has flooded into Tauranga Moana. From Friday evening 15th May 2015 the opening of Uku Rere exhibition awakened us to the esteemed company of living treasures, nourished by Nga Kaihanga Uku. Five kaitiaki or guardians artists whom are connected by their membership of the national Maori clay workers association (founded 1986 by Baye Riddell and Manos Nathan) shared their works in the local exhibition. Present were Manos Nathan, Colleen Waata Urlich, Wi Taepa and Paerau Corneal. Riddell had remained in Europe.
To be frank, there are limits to English; that word ‘exhibition’ could be optimally changed to welcoming one to a mystic exposure. Be prepared for entering the tradition of Te Ao Maori. (You’re) Your invitation is to come into every living material as holding mauri, its life force. This experience may change you.
The launch of the Uku Rere held on a cold Friday evening was an opportunity to come off the windy streets into light. In gathering as guests we were welcomed similar to the process of whakatau; by calling guest to gather then shared words acknowledged peoples, place and ancestors. We could easily be open now to this place and to the history of each work arriving and being placed there. Through the words shared we were each invited into a change in the company of these taonga, treasures.
These art pieces, living treasures, are clearly not objects of ownership. As living work, they may chose you for they are rich through their layered whakapapa, their genealogy with its bodies of knowledge that endure. Through the presence formed from clay and fibre, within hands shaping and releasing that which binds and softens. I felt the soul moved amongst those pieces amongst us, the wairua which is beyond colonisation or oppression.
As I looked around I sensed many whom were previous strangers were able to become changed in that gallery room; some would dare to wear that difference out into the world. Maori values inform the works and clearly were central to the process of that evening. Here works clearly were at home and were able to shine from an inner light of the artist, of whanau, and ignite insight into the generations of past and future.
One artist speaker noted that something here connects all cultures either through the clay of the human body or the advance of all our lives to return us to the clay earth. Children, youth, kuia and kaumatua (esteemed elders), hapu Maori, latter settlers, artists and collector attended the opening. Surely in the company of these works of fibre and pottery we become part of expressing and examining the human relationship within this living world. Uku Rewa, Nga kaihanga uku and beyond – may you be cherished, may all be cherished.
By Merrill Simmons Hansen