Christchurch Art Gallery’s new installation features 530 meters of hand-woven harakeke

The work features 530 meters of braided strands of harakeke, or flax.

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The work features 530 meters of braided strands of harakeke, or flax.

An artistic collective of four Maori women spent months harvesting, processing and braiding strands of harakeke, or flax, into 530 meters of webbing for a new installation at the Christchurch Art Gallery.

The braided harakeke descends from the skylights and crosses the gallery foyer in geometric patterns as part of a new work titled Tīkawe by the Mata Aho collective.

Gallery curator Melanie Oliver said the collective, which won the prestigious Walters Prize last year and was named an Arts Foundation laureate earlier this month, specializes in works by large-scale art using fibers and textiles.

Oliver said the piece took around 18 months to complete. Flax was harvested in urban settings such as parking lots and suburban backyards.

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Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti and Terri Te Tau spent months braiding the harakeke for the new work.

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Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti and Terri Te Tau spent months braiding the harakeke for the new work.

The four members of the collective – Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti and Terri Te Tau – spent months, partly during confinement, preparing and braiding linen into long lengths of fiber.

“They were all handcrafted,” she said.

“Their approach is that they have four brains and eight hands.”

The braided linen took the artistic collective several months to create.

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The braided linen took the artistic collective several months to create.

Oliver said the work was inspired by kawe, which were braided lengths of linen used by Maori to carry heavy loads.

“The Maori used the kawe to carry everything from kete to stones, materials and even – using a more specialized form known as pīkau – babies.”

Before the collective started working, Oliver took them to see braided harakeke at the Canterbury Museum, Okains Bay Museum and the Rene Orchiston Collection at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research.

“It made them think about how people would have transported the pounamu across the Alps.”

Lengths of braided linen extend from skylights at the top of the Christchurch <a class=Art Gallery foyer.” style=”width:100%;display:inline-block”/>

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Lengths of braided linen extend from skylights at the top of the Christchurch Art Gallery foyer.

This is the first time the collective has used the harakeke. In previous works they used tarps, mink blankets and nets. The work was purchased for the gallery by the WA Sutton Trust and will be on display until the end of next year.

“It transforms our home,” Oliver said.

“[Their artworks] still takes up a lot of space, which is very intentional

“They are calling for space for Maori women in this gallery.”

The Mata Aho collective created He Toka Tū Moana/She's a Rock for the 23rd Biennale of Sydney.

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The Mata Aho collective created He Toka Tū Moana/She’s a Rock for the 23rd Biennale of Sydney.

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