Tairāwhiti Arts Festival back to the future

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

As communities recover and rebuild following Covid-19, on the East Coast the Tairāwhiti Arts Festival is back on the horizon with its first project for 2020.

The festival is calling out to people whose portraits are on the iconic millennium wall created in 1999 in Gisborne, to reconnect through an interactive online platform and share stories of their 20-year journeys. 

In 1999, the project, led by Melody Craw, sought to capture the youth of Te Tairāwhiti at the turn of the Millenium. The tiles were distributed to primary and intermediate schools across the region and the children each had one task: to paint a self-portrait of themselves on their tile, which would then be added to the wall – now a Gisborne icon.

Twenty years on, Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival is asking, “If this wall could talk and these tiles had voices, what would they tell us about who and where those children are today?”

Pakiwaitara - If These Walls Could Talk is a digital retrospective of the Tile Wall in Tūranga – a vibrant display of over 6000 hand-painted tiles, which was created ahead of the millennium celebrations and lives at the Tūranga Inner Harbour.

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival chief executive and artistic director Tama Waipara says that, given the state of the world right now, Pakiwaitara is an opportunity to connect with Te Tairāwhiti's community from around the globe.

"During the rāhui, people turned to digital channels and online arts events to pass time and raise their spirits. This project follows on from that, to bring uplift and connection."

Tama Waipara says the initiative will become not only an online space for expression and an authentic meeting place for the people of Te Tairāwhiti but also a valuable digital archive.

“The festival kaupapa is about our people and this place. Pakiwaitara will deliver a space for our people to come together following a period in which they weren’t able to connect physically.”

The project is being led by a much loved Tairāwhiti son, former solicitor and now Managing Director of Iwicomms, David Jones (Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Kahungunu). As a child, Jones painted his own tile for the wall and, as the COVID-19 pandemic took grasp of the world, he created a new vision to implement this project.

Jones says, “This project brings one of the largest youth arts projects back to life, viewed through a 2020 lens. This is a fantastic opportunity to take stock of our people, and hear their stories about where they are and what they are doing in the world. Pakiwaitara seeks to weave together stories, perspectives, people and places, art, and expression; using digital media as the platform and I’m excited by the opportunity to work with our community to build this wall together.”

The Festival is calling out to people whose portraits are on the 1999 Millennium Tile Wall. The artists, who will now be aged 25 to 35 are invited to sign-up online and share photos, videos – in the way of kōrero, waiata or performance – or other artworks they may have created in the last 20 years. The general public will be able to access the site, and themselves follow the tile wall participants’ journeys over the last two decades.

Following a brilliant inaugural festival in 2019, Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival is looking ahead to its 2 to 11 October 2020 event. Since the move to Level 1, the Festival team has commenced planning a number of music, performance, dance and visual arts events that both deliver to the Festival’s kaupapa but ensure safe gathering for all attendees.