Papatūānuku and Tāne showcased in NZ's largest artwork

By Jessica Tyson

The story of Papatūānuku is set to be unveiled in a unique way this evening at Auckland's Aotea Centre.

The masterpiece by renowned Māori artist Lisa Reihana will be showcased on two 65 m² digital screens, making it one of New Zealand's largest and most significant contemporary works of Māori art.  

Ihi tells the story of Papatūānuku and her son Tāne. It’s a Māori creation story.

“Often times we hear it from a different perspective but I really wanted to think about the relationship between a mother and a son, the transference of power from one generation to another,” says Reihana, of Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine, Ngāi Tū.

In 2018 Reihana was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to art.

Her work has been displayed all over the world including at the Venice Biennale in 2017 with the large-scale video installation in Pursuit of Venus [infected] (2015-17).

She created Ihi for the refurbishment of the Aotea Centre.

“They were really interested to think about its place, its location, and I wanted to talk about the relationship between the ground and the space we’re living in Tāmaki Makaurau, and thinking about this as a wider place, a cultural space and some of our histories and stories,” says Reihana.

“As a woman I was really thinking about our stories about Papatūānuku, that she had many children, and so I've shown her as hapū, pregnant, and I wanted to bring that beautiful femininity to this story.”

Reihana worked with dancers Taane Mete and Nancy Wijohn to create the piece.

“I wanted to work with performers because it's coming into a performance space and the work is a new very large video project which is presented on two LED screens, she says.

Mete is a Māori artist of Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Korokī Kahukura descent. He is one of New Zealand’s most revered dancers and choreographers. First introduced to dance as a child through Kapa Haka, he has been dancing and performing for 37 years.

Wijohn is a Māori artist of Te Rarawa, Ngāi Tuhoe, Ngāti Whaoa and Ngāti Tahu descent.

Her contemporary dance career spans 15 years as a performance/movement artist, choreographer, teacher and physical therapist.   She was a core member of the Atamira Dance Company from 2008 – 2017, dancing in shows around the world and choreographing three works for the company. 

Reihana hopes Ihi will help people think about Māori cultural histories and the beauty of Māori stories.

"I know it’s strange what people call mythology but as I've grown older I've come to appreciate the ways that these stories pass down ideas that are useful for us, she says.

“So people coming to view the work now can work out what they can have as a take away from Papatūānuku and Tāne and how they can use that knowledge for today.

Ihi will be on permanent display from tomorrow.

About the artwork

Ihi explores the relationship between Tāne and Papatūānuku, and the separation that brought the world of Te Ao Mārama to existence.  

In the beginning, Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother) were locked in a tight embrace. Their sons and daughters dwelt in the darkness between them. Frustrated by the claustrophobic space in which he was confined, Tāne decides to use his powerful legs to prise Ranginui from Papatūānuku, letting light between his parents and life to flourish. After wrenching his parents apart, Tāne surveys the view he has created - a cosmos of stars and moody brooding skies.

Tāne continues his quest and climbs to retrieve the baskets of knowledge. Below is Papatūānuku, resplendent in her role as Earth Mother. 

Ihi is the division, the separation, the power.  Here, light and energy converge under tension and we can feel the push and pull of life’s force.

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki Director Kirsten Paisley said the unveiling of Ihi marks a significant contribution to Māori art, and to Auckland’s public art legacy.

“I am especially delighted that a contemporary work of architectural scale is telling this timeless Māori story in one of Auckland most important public buildings,” she says.

“It is incredibly exciting to see a spiritually rich and poignant relationship between mother and son told in an active public space. Ihi, is a slowly revolving, cosmic journey which collapses the creation of the universe, as an ancient narrative that is at once alive and ever more present within us for Lisa’s telling of it.

“This commission is ambitious, brave and entirely transforms the Aotea Centre. Ihi will have a profound impact on our public art environment and future ambitions. A new benchmark has been set.”