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Wā kainga

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

Professor Huhana Smith (Ngāti Tukorehe and Ngati Raukawa ki te Tonga) is Head of Whiti o Rehua School of Art at Massey University and a visual artist with a focus on kaupapa Māori methods combined with sciences to address climate change concerns.

How have you developed your career?

I have developed a career by not compromising my philosophical, cultural, or socio-political principles; by acknowledging that creative potential in Māori and indigenous knowledges is limitless and transformative, and by embedding my creative practice in wā kainga (home place) in order to actively address contemporary environmental issues and their impact on the human condition of our hapū.

Huhana Smith, Hikoikoitia Te Ao Walk the World, 2019, oil in linen (detail)

What role does the artist have in society?

The role of the artist in society might be to use their creative potential to focus on trans-disciplinary projects, particularly around climate change adaptation strategies and transition action planning. I am part of a group known as the Kei Uta Collective where specialists in kaupapa Māori, drawing as expanded practice (e.g Te Waituhi ā Nuku: drawing ecologies), climate science, fluvial geomorphology, ecological economics, and landscape architecture come together to create events or exhibitions that promulgate our research findings. Our Kei Uta Collective presents research into coastal adaptation strategies and envisages the pathways towards resilience via contemporary art and design practice means.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read or seen this week?

The new fresh water policy documents and research strategy material for our funding bids.

What research do you do?

I have been co-principle investigator since 2010 in large government-funded research projects that tackle the big issues we face in this precarious world, for example working with our hapū to enhance fresh water: revitalizing wetlands and dune lake systems, reconnecting severed river meanders, assessing faecal contamination in shellfish – generally trying to know the extent of decline and how to transform them with hapū-led solutions. This increases mauri and wellbeing. Currently I am working on research bids for modelling pathways for climate change resilience for large iwi rohe (regions) and action planning for multiple well-beings within our mountains to sea, Horowhenua case study.

What's the last show that surprised you and why?

I loved Marilyn Jones’ Linear Impositions at Toi Poneke, Wellington. Jones ‘draws’ in sewn fabric with welded steel, or she encases garden hosing in velvet. She then sculpturally arranges these works as installations coming off the walls and floors. Simple bright elbows of fabric, machine sewn with thread, encase corners of steel. The results are very simple, tactile, powerful impositions in space.

Marilyn Jones, Linear Impositions, Toi Poneke, Wellington, August/September 2019

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

I am often driving between our homes in Kuku and Wellington and wish I could afford a hydro car running on water; the break I get from my partner’s cognitive impairment; the dynamic of my job; our olive grove and the Syrian friends with 1000-year-old knowledge who are helping us; our orchard and the work to be done on eliminating blackberry; the welfare of our 16 sheep, 7 lambs, our 2 cows, particularly my hand-reared cow ‘Little Jo From Down the Road’, or ‘Lil Jo’ for short.

How does your work comment on current social or political issues?

My latest series of paintings draws on Māori knowledge systems - environmental, stellar, and lunar - along with my climate change environmental research findings which underpin our hapū-led actions. I am trying to deepen environmental, stellar, and lunar understandings to ground my work, especially for my current series which draws on contemporary social and political issues of environmental or climate change concerns. Aspects are then coded into my work on trees and plants as nature curtailed by humans. These works document the many research hīkoi (walking talking hui) I have taken locally and globally.

Money is no object. Which priceless artwork do you buy?

I tend to mainly buy student work and would not bother wasting money on something considered priceless, but in terms of taonga tuku iho, I would buy back all my great grandparents’ land in Kuku, Horowhenua, build well designed papa kāinga for hapū and grow the best food crops to feed local, regional, and urban people in Wellington, like my ancestors did in the 1830s.

First published ArtZone #81


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