First public toi exhibition by Māori arts exponent Todd Couper

By Mānia Clarke

Tauranga's general public has been given the rare opportunity to view the first exhibition by contemporary Māori art exponent Todd Couper (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu). The Toi Mauri exhibition is made up of 35 taonga, over half are on loan from overseas, especially for the occasion.

Couper hails from Rongomaiwahine and was born in Wairoa.

"It's cool. Usually, I'm just working on one piece at a time, so for me to see a whole lot of them, pieces all together is quite unusual for me," he said.

Couper has been creating his passion for over 15 years.

"Most of my idea's come from things to do with nature, which is a lot to do with my upbringing from Wairoa being an outdoors type person, doing a lot of hunting and fishing." 

18 of his taonga have returned from overseas, such as Vancouver's Spirit Wrestler Gallery and seven from New Zealand. Prices can range from $1,000 - $60,000.

"We sometimes don't realise the calibre of our work. Like really, it's up there with the best in the world. It's unique to us, which is something that overseas people are interested in, because they can't get it anywhere else," said Couper.

"A lot of their work is not seen very often in New Zealand, so we thought it would be good to bring it back from Canada, US and Europe, put it on display here for a short period of time so people can enjoy it," said Tauranga Art Gallery spokesperson Martine Pierhagen.

Couper has created a series of new works specifically for the show.

"I wanted to do something that was sort of a new direction for me.They're all based on the pūrerehua form, the bull roarer and each one of them talks about different aspects that the pūrerehua was used for.

Couper says mentors have been key to his development.

"Artists like Cliff Whiting, who we sadly lost recently. I was lucky to have worked under Cliff on the Rongomaraeroa project at Te Papa." 

Couper explains his favourite piece. 

"The wild boar. Pig hunting has been a big thing in our family. My dad has been a hunter virtually all his life. I thought that I would do this piece in honour of him I guess." 

And his advice for budding artists is simple.

"Draw as much as you can. We call it like the basic language of all art forms. Just to keep on at it.

The exhibition continues through to the 10th of September at Tauranga Art Gallery.