18 - 06 - 21

Tracey Tawhiao (Ngai te Rangi, Whakatohea, Tuwharetoa) is more than an artist, she’s an ‘artivist’. She uses her work – penned, painted, collaged, performed, to beautifully transform negative language into positive, and tell the creation stories of Te Ao Māori using symbols drawn from Māori rock art. We talked to her about drawing strength from her ancestors, the earth and even the air.

Images: Greta van der Star


Sans Woman

–– Which women do you find inspiring in your life, and why?

Papatuanuku inspires me, she has presented us with her beautiful Earth and all of her Taonga. I am daily grateful for the abundance she supplies for us to live fully. I think there’s something very important in our bare feet on the earth. Like a charging station. 

Another inspiration would have to be Hineahuone the first woman in Māori cosmology. She was made by Tane, the eldest son of Papatuanuku. Made from his semen mixed with the clay of his mother’s body. Tane has domain over the forest and growth. The trees are Tane’s seeds and then he made the first woman. There’s a lot to unpack in Māori cosmology but it takes you to some very profound intelligence.

–– The natural world is very present in your work. Do you have any early memories of being moved by or deeply engaged with the natural world?

Living overlooking the Manukau harbour meant a daily doses, of spectacular views, of the sunrise and the moonrise over the sea. This view altered our personal view of existence. The other supernatural view I had was of one blade of grass dancing to the music I was playing while all other blades stood still. I saw that Tawhirimatea (God of Wind) was a most sensitive and precise being. And that he knew I was watching.

–– What for you is most rewarding about creating art? 

Being close to my higher inner being is the most rewarding result.

–– Do you find inspiration comes easily to you, or is it something you work to cultivate? If the latter, what tends to help most?

Inspiration is the air we breathe. That we aren’t praising nature’s magnificence daily is an indication of how far away we are from what is essential. Just as the air is just there when we breathe, so is inspiration. 

–– As a mother, what quality or understanding has felt most important to instil in your children?

Be yourself – there’s no one else exactly like you on this earth. It’s important to me that children know they are born perfect and exactly right to learn what they came to learn. They don’t have to try, they just need to be and all their gifts will be shown to them.

–– What are your favourite ways to take care of yourself when you’re feeling depleted?

Walking to my favourite large rock cluster and telling them my problems. They always tell me the same thing: ‘By the time you walk home, the problem will be resolved.’ And it always is. 

– The last year has been a strange and challenging one. Has it brought you any particular new understandings of yourself or unexpected paths/projects to embark on?

Yes. My love for Aotearoa has multiplied. My love for my home has multiplied and my love for great cooking has too. And my ideal holiday is what lockdown was. No choice, just make the best of what you have. Those jobs I never do got done. I also got Creative New Zealand funding to paint a solo show that was held at NORTHart, Northcote, Auckland. I was productive in a way that felt way easier and better. Just couldn’t go anywhere and it was a fantastic revelation – having no pressure to interact. 

Be yourself – there’s no one else exactly like you on this earth. It’s important to me that children know they are born perfect and exactly right to learn what they came to learn. They don’t have to try, they just need to be and all their gifts will be shown to them.

–– Have the last 12 months brought any major setbacks for you? If so, how did you deal with them?

We had close loved ones die. Not of Covid but before their time. My girls and I have felt very sad but we are most grateful for love and whānau and existence itself. We also are living with dead, loved ones, which is very spiritually uplifting and fascinating.

–– What brings you the most joy in life in general? 

Walking to talk to rocks is pretty damn good. Especially when they always resolve my problems. Actually, what they say is, ‘There are no problems just growth, so just let go and grow. Stop trying to resist change.’ Hearing nature talk to me, actually feeling nature’s care for us – that brings me my greatest joy. 

Sans Journal

Sans Woman

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