Wāhine Māori art collective opens major Te Papa exhibition

By Kelvin McDonald
Mata Aho Collective artists Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti and Terri Te Tau. Photo/David Parry.

A major new commission by acclaimed wāhine Māori artists Mata Aho Collective opens at Te Papa today, alongside five of the collective’s existing artworks, shown together for the first time.

The exhibition, Te Puni Aroaro, is the collective's largest-ever artwork and features six works, each made of industrial materials that reflect contemporary Māori experience.

Spanning across the whole of the double-height threshold gallery, Takapau measures 200 square metres and is suspended above visitors.

Made of 480 ratchets and stainless steel buckles, 960 hooks and almost six kilometres of polyester hi-vis tie-downs, the new, immersive and site-responsive installation draws on the collective’s research of whāriki and their time in Te Papa’s collection.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for us as wāhine Māori artists to be taking up so much space in the national museum of New Zealand,” Mata Aho Collective says in a statement.

“This exhibition gives a lot of space to the six works – each has its own room which allows visitors to really get to know and experience them.”

Renowned for large-scale installations, the collective is the vision of Erena Baker (Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai, Ngāti Toa Rangātira), Sarah Hudson (Ngāti Awa, Ngāi Tūhoe), Bridget Reweti (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi) and Terri Te Tau (Rangitāne ki Wairarapa), who have worked together for more than a decade.

The collective fuses together ancient techniques and contemporary materials.

“We as Māori, place a huge amount of value on to our art forms and our taonga, and our work is founded within the contemporary realities of mātauranga Māori. We’re grateful to be able to spend time in collections, learning from our ancestors’ techniques,” Mata Aho says.

“We’ve taken bodily, domestic-sized techniques we see on quite a small scale, and we’ve up-scaled them to showcase the value of that.”

The collective's works have been featured at major international exhibitions from Germany and the United Kingdom, to Toronto, Honolulu and Sydney. They were the winners of the 2021 Walters Prize and Arts Foundation Laureates in 2022.

This is the first time their work has been exhibited at Te Papa.

“Over the last ten years, they have created awe-inspiring installations for numerous international exhibitions and biennales,” says Dr Nina Tonga, Te Papa's Curator Contemporary Art.

“This exhibition celebrates the incredible contribution Mataaho Collective is making to contemporary art in Aotearoa and around the world.”

The Mata Aho Collective with their 11m x 4m 'Kiko Moana' art installation at the Oceania exhibition at London's Royal Academy. Photo/David Parry.

One of the collective's artworks is being shown in Aotearoa for the first time. Kiko Moana was created for the prestigious documenta art exhibition in Kassell, Germany. The eleven-metre by four-metre work is a blue cascading ocean made of 60 panels of tarpaulin. 

“It’s really exciting for us to be exhibiting here in Aotearoa. There are some works in the show that our whānau and friends haven’t even seen. Given the size and scale we work with, we can’t usually show more than one piece in the same space – this is a real privilege for us,” says Mata Aho.