The men behind the steel

By Jessica Tyson

Modern technology is changing the way Māori artists are creating their work especially in Gisborne, where there's been a rise in artists creating sculptures using steel instead of traditional wooden carving.

Joel Akroyd, of Ngāti Porou and Rongowhakaata, is one of the apprentices from Universal Engineering who has worked on the projects.

“It’s pretty cool to actually learn the Māori history, stuff that I didn’t know myself. So it’s quite interesting to learn and quite proud to be a part of it.”

Construction of Te Maro. / Source: Universal Engineering.

Over the last year engineers from the company have helped build sculptures designed by artists including Mark Kopua and Nick Tupara.

Tupara says he’s enjoyed creating work using new technology with the help of the engineers.

“We had an opportunity to go in and share with them the stories behind the works that they were making and you could tell during that time that they were also developing a passion for the art and I think that’s reflected in the quality of the finish work that they put it.”

One of the recent works designed by Tupara is of tipuna and prominent leader Te Maro who was killed by gunshot by Captain Cook when he first made landfall in New Zealand.

The 10m high memorial at the Ruatanuika lookout was unveiled as part of the Tuia 250 commemorations in October.

Co-owner and director at Universal Engineering Phill Mathews says, “A lot of us are born and bred in Gisborne. We actually haven’t understood the full significance behind some of the stories and some of the history. “

“We all know about Captain Cook and since then we've learned about Te Maro and the tracks, and the path that he took, and so the guys are really starting to embrace some of those stories.”

Apprentice engineer RJ says it was a privilege to work on Te Maro.

“I was blown away because I had the chance to do that. It was awesome.”

Construction of Pourewa designed by Mark Kopua. / Source: Universal Engineering.

Tupara says using steel instead of traditional wood has its benefits.

“The other trick with wood is that it needs maintenance as well so we'd have to be reinvesting in the site all the time and at least with the corten (weathering) steel, once it settles, it kind of looks after itself.”

“I'd like to hope that we've stayed to our kaupapa and used our art form in a modern context with modern material.

“To be as expressive as our ancestors have been at our marae and that we’ve extended our marae kōrero at least outdoors, back into the rest of our community.”

NOTE: Artist Derek Lardelli was not involved in the sculptures made as part of the Tuia 250 commemorations.

Construction of Puhi Kai Iti designed by Nick Tupara. / Source: Universal Engineering.