Koopu exhibits Hei Ō Mō Apanui

By Ruth Smith

One of the most well-known faces of Te Matatini and the Māori art world, painter, Erena Koopu has combined her love for the visual and performing arts in her newest exhibition, 'Hei Ō Mō Apanui'. 

Koopu, a descendant of Te Whānau-a- Apanui, will be showcasing works depicting her tribal narratives through the lyrical musings of tohunga and renowned Māori composer, Rikirangi Gage.

Koopu will be exhibiting 26 new creations that bring compositions of Te Whānau-a-Apanui to life in the form of painting.

“The primary aim of the exhibition was to paint the compositions of Rikirangi Gage.  Many of these songs have been performed on the Matatini stage, and so, they’re quite well known and popular,” Koopu explains.

The 35-year-old contemporary Māori artist has displayed her works around the world and in many galleries across NZ.   But Koopu believes that the pinnacle of exhibiting Māori art is the Māori environment.

“There are so many other things that you can do as an artist to qualify you as an artist.   Working on marae, working with children and youths.  All of these things make it more meaningful,” she says.

Koopu is considered by many as a person of great versatility. 

She is a well-known contemporary Māori artist, an academic with a Masters in Māori Visual Arts from Massey University, and she also co-tutors one of Te Matatini's top kapa haka groups from the Mataatua region, Tauira Mai Tawhiti.

"What Erena's been able to do is produce a stunning amount of work.  It relates to her and deals to her particular skill set which is performance as a performance artist but also a great educator and a very good painter," says colleague and mentor, Associate Professor Steve Gibbs.

Koopu attended New Zealand's acclaimed Māori Arts Market in Wellington last year as a part of the Toihoukura: School of Māori Visual Art contingent.  She was also a member of the NZ delegation that representes Aotearoa at the 2016 Pacific Arts Festival held in Guam. 

"We're often asked to teach and inform younger people about the whole process of being involved in Toi Māori but it doesn't make any sense unless you actually engage in yourself," Gibbs says.

The exhibition will be formally opened at the Tairāwhiti Museum on Friday evening.