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Uku Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku and Beyond

Nearly three decades after the National Māori clay workers association was established, Uku Rere: Nga Kaihanga Uku and Beyond is the first major survey of contemporary Māori ceramicists.

The room is almost empty of human life, yet through the art of Uku it breathes an essence of energy that swirls around the room. My gaze rests on each work of art.

I imagine the artists’ hands as they take a cold lump of Mother Earth and mold it. Breathing life into it with their warmth, allowing its intention to take shape. As it warms it becomes pliable and the chemistry between artist and clay weave their magic.

Many of the pieces displayed, are held in private collections scattered around New Zealand and were kindly donated by proud owners.

One piece that stood out for me was by Manos Nathan of Nga Puhi and Ngati Whatua descent. Sitting on the table is a round cylindrical piece, the size of a large fruit bowl but entirely enclosed. It’s blue-black in colour with white planets, stars, and the moon in the centre.  When I looked closer, a figure superseded it all. Imagine this piece high above your head, multiplied millions of times in size as it becomes the night sky and there in the centre with the moon illuminating his shadow is Tāne-Nui-a-Rangi, our Sky Father, protecting us from above as Papatuānuku, our Mother Earth nourishes us below.

Other works on display were from Coleen Waata Urlich who descends from Te Popota o NgāPuhi ki Kaipara and Te Rārawa. My favorite was a three tiered styled piece painted with dragon flies, titled Te Pu o Te Wheki – Kaikohe The Heartland of NgāPuhi.

Then there was Paerau Corneal of Ngāti Tūwharetoa and Te Atihaunui-a-Papārangi showing big bold pieces and statements to match. My favorite was an earthy display of three figures with the middle one titled Ko Au Te Whenua, Ko Te Whenua Ko Au – I am the Land, The Land is Me. All depicted land statements, with the children of Papatuānuku perched on their bodies.

In the main window display were pieces showing carved patterns, patterns one would normally see carved into wood. Wiri Te Tau Pirika Taepa of Te Arawa, Ngāti Pikiau and Te Atiawa descent demonstrated fine detail and a steady hand.

Tucked into a corner, sat work from Baye Riddell from Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau a Rautaupare iwi. Stylistically I am reminded of Egyptian ceramics I saw when sight seeing in Aswan and Luxor.

I interpret Uku Rere as meaning flying clay and that’s what I saw the artists produce. Clay turned into meaningful art with a desire to fly their story out into the world.

Mauri Ora – It is Life

Aroha Bentson

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