Metiria Turei is finding her voice, again. She spoke with Hanahiva Rose.
‘Ko Metiria Turei ahau. No Āti Haunui a Pāpārangi, Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa me Rangitane.’
Metiria Turei is an artist whose work navigates the concepts of whanaungatanga, rangatiratanga, whakapapa, and mana wahine, with a particular view to centering Indigenous identity and experience. At this point in her practice, working at the University of Otago and studying at the Dunedin School of Art, Metiria remains strongly committed to many of the causes which defined her 15 years as a member of parliament.
‘The most important thing that art school has given me is a reason to take time to think through my art, an excuse to spend time on perfecting it to the best I can, and a community of experienced and emerging artists who provide fantastic support and advice. The Dunedin School of Art is the perfect place for me, it gives me all the freedom I need to experiment.’ As Metiria tells it, her enrolment at the School of Art came from a desire to see if the many years she had spent sewing, weaving, and embroidering in her pockets of spare time could form the foundation of another platform for conversation. ‘I have spent 20 years using words,’ she says, ‘but maybe I could communicate important ideas in objects instead’.
It’s also offered an opportunity to develop her practice formally. A recent series, Tūruapō Austronesian 3000, spans a number of media, including weaving, sewing, photography, and film. She used these different art forms to increase the accessibility of the work, so that the textile components – which form the heart of the piece – are ‘truly activated’. Her influences included Lisa Reihana, Osbourne Macharia, Patti Solomona Tyrell, and FAFSWAG: artists who place ‘Indigenous people at the centre. Everything else is the Other. It’s a powerful way of thinking’.
Does she notice common concerns in her political and artistic careers? ‘Yes, in different ways.’ Now, as she has been for many years, Metiria is deeply affected by the ‘uplifting’ of Māori children by the state. ‘It is a racist, violent practice and needs to stop. I fought that in politics and I want to keep fighting it. But I am trying very hard to speak with things, not words, and so this issue has also dominated my creative thinking.’
The histories and narratives which Metiria’s work explores have artistic legacies in Aotearoa that have traditionally been under-researched and under-valued in the art historical record. Running through her practice is a desire to bring these silences in the archives to light. ‘For over 30 years,’ she tells me, ‘Māori women have been using art as protest: to communicate the lived experiences of themselves and their whānau; to tell the stories that the mainstream cannot or will not hear’.
This year, the 250th anniversary of the first on-shore encounters between Māori and Europeans, Metiria is researching the impact of the 1990 exhibition Mana Tiriti: The Art of Protest and Partnership – which examined Māori-Pākehā relationships 150 years on from the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi – and its relationship to the Tuia-Encounters 250 protest exhibitions planned for this November. ‘Some of the women involved in the Tuia 250 protest were also exhibiting in Mana Tiriti,’ she explains. ‘There is a whakapapa here of activism, voice, and hope. New Māori artists are contributing with new ideas surrounding colonisation and their place in Aotearoa. I think it’s incredibly powerful, and exciting and shouldn’t go unnoticed by the art world or communities in general.’
First published ArtZone #80
Metiria Turei, 'Kurangaituku Whakaora Tūruapō Astronesian 3000', Digital Inkprint, 600x1272mm
Metiria Turei, Whakaniwha, cotton, 2018. Image: Rory Sweeney
Metiria Turei, 'Mahuika Manawaroa Tūruapō Astronesian 3000', Digital Inkjet print, 820x530mm