The Land of Tara is the latest exhibition to appear in the Courtenay Place light boxes in the centre of Wellington. Featuring graphic representations of the capital city's ancestors including Kupe, Whatonga, and his sons Tautoki and Tara (after whom Wellington harbour, Te-Whanganui-a Tara, is named), the works look to explore three questions: who were the original inhabitants of Wellington, where did they come from and how are they remembered today?
The name of the exhibition and inspiration for the artworks is taken from Elsdon Best’s work, The Land of Tara and they who settled it (1917), published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society. While giving an account of those who first came to Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Best’s writing also sheds light on the meaning and stories behind many of the places in and around Wellington.
Passing by on the footpath, viewers are greeted with a visual representation of the whakapapa of Wellington, from the pacific navigator Kupe to his great-great-grandson Wakanui. The figures are designed like a pou-tūārongo, the carved centre pole found in a wharewhakairo, or carved meeting house. Stacked on top of one another, they interweave into a single, interconnected image. As the figures move through the ages a stylistic progression can be seen from Polynesian to Māori. Pacific influences include patterns from Samoan tatau (tattoo), Cook Island carving and tattoo and imagery found in tapa cloths from Tonga, Samoa and Niue.
From the road, the light boxes reveal a mural based on the designs seen on the Taranaki pātaka (store-house) Motunui. This work recognises the mana whenua, or territorial rights, of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika in Wellington, which includes Te Āti Awa, Taranaki, Ngāti Ruanui and Ngāti Tama. The figures declare that while the city has built up around them, Māori persist.
In this way the works act as a kind of inner-city pātaka, preserving the greatest taonga of all - our whakapapa. They also speak to the importance of Te Aro Pā, a historical site of significance for local Māori, which is just across the road. For more on the works, listen to this interview on Radio New Zealand's Te Ahi Kaa show.
A limited number of prints are now available on-line from endemic world.