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Carving Future Pathways – Damian Mackie

Ngā Toi Māori, Whakairo

Damian Mackie is Kaiwhakairo of Whakaraupō Carving Centre in Lyttelton. The Centre is a non-profit Charitable Trust that was established by whanau members of Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke in 2010. The centre aims to uphold the mana of Te Ao Māori, with a prime focus on upholding the mana and Tikanga of whakairo kaupapa toi. A Ta Moko practitioner and carver, Damian is also busy teaching rangatahi the art of whakairo. He speaks with Zara Potts about the Carving Centre and its future plans.

You weren’t born in Christchurch were you?

Kao. I was born in Tāhuna / Queenstown.

But you whakapapa here?

Kao, I whakapapa to Ngāti Kura – Matauri Bay in the far north. I also whakapapa to Te Ati Awa. I’ve spent most of my life in Christchurch. I played professional sport as a young fella so I got to travel, but I’ve always resided in Christchurch.

So tell me about Whakaraupō – you’re a carving centre – but you’re also very focussed on education?

Yes, we have three whare. One is Whakaraupō kura – we’re in the process at the moment of becoming NZQA accredited so we can deliver unit standards for whakairo. We’re intending to deliver this online with the intention that in 2023 we will have Whakaraupō kura delivering levels 1,2,3 and 4 and bachelors for whakairo and Rauangi / visual arts.

And this is for rangatahi specifically?

One of the key things for us is we run a number of programmes where we deal with at-risk youth, and we’re finding a lot of participants who identify as Māori, have a creative skills set, so we need to be able to provide a career pathway for them if they choose to undertake the mahi working towards becoming a qualified toi practitioner.

Is there a greater need in Ōtautahi with at-risk youth?

What were finding is there is a large number of youth who have disengaged with their schools because of the isolation around covid and a lot of them have disengaged from their whānau and disengaged from school. So we have a number of community organisations who capture youth who are disengaged and bring them under a new kaupapa where they frame an educational programme around them that’s specific to them.

So what do you offer them?

We deliver a five day programme named Toi Aro that we’ve developed specifically for Oranga Tamariki and that programme happens once a month. We take on ten students for five days there are six principles we work with – and we work in a way that the participants are able to manifest a creative idea that comes from Self-Reflection. On the final day of the programme participants get to undertake and experience Toi Hua, the presentation of a creative piece. It is an empowering part of the creative process. Participants get to talk to their creative piece and what it means to them before taking their creative piece home.

Traditional School programmes are all about fitting into the curriculum and if that doesn’t suit you, then you feel like you’re failing – whereas with a programme like this, or with Toi, it’s hard to feel like you’re failing because you’re creating something that’s meaningful to you on some level.

The korero that we have with the participants is that not only have you come up with a creative idea, it’s also how you apply organisational skills to that – how are you going to create it, toi hanga – do you have the skill set to create this? And if you don’t, what are you going to do to get that skill set?

It’s problem solving as well.

The whole idea of it is, not only are you creating a piece, but that you need to think about how you can apply toi principles to creating your day, your week, your career. It’s using arts Kaupapa to think about other parts of their lives.

The confidence that that builds -when you’ve made something, or written something, or carved something – the confidence has to increase mana?

It does. When we think about those participants and how it’s uplifting their mana and empowering them, hopefully it allows for a spark for them to think about the fact that they have a skill set that they can continue with. We’ve captured probably half a dozen in the last few months who had amazing skill sets.

What’s it like for you to see the spark take hold?

Its empowering as a Kaiako/teacher of Kaupapa Māori Toi to see creations manifest through a process. To hear participants stand in front of others talking to their piece is uplifting.

Creativity is a really good way to uncover what lies beneath.

Creating allows participants to express their feelings, emotions, desires, whakapapa, morals and values. The 12-week programme we have is amazing for that – we have carvers enrolled who are from first nation British Columbia, we have aboriginal artists from Australia – a whole range of different peoples who just want to upskill and the ones from overseas are really keen to see how Māori create, the process we go through to create something.

Toi Māori is so unique – do you see aspects of Māori experience in all the work that comes through?

Definitely. Everything we create has a meaning to it. Right from the selection of the materials we use. When you think about Toi Hanga – the manipulation of materials – Māori do that pretty well. There are challenges of course, it’s hard now to find resources, it’s hard to just find a log, very difficult to get native wood – so we’re having to use other materials. So when we do use other material, we have to think about the cultural significance and how that’s going to affect the mauri of the piece we’re creating. Kaiwhakairo are always thinking about materials, colours – what may be deemed as contemporary today will be deemed traditional tomorrow, so we have to think about that.

Cliff Whiting’s marae at Te Papa comes to mind – it was radical when first presented but not so much today

Exactly. Or Fayne Robinson’s mahi toi.

Just talking about materials for a moment – it must be pretty challenging for you given the lack of resources?

As carvers we have an obligation to be mindful of our resources specific to Whakairo.

New Zealand has been pretty poor at protecting our trees.

The ability to carve a waka now – to find a log that has the right balance – for a waka carvers would take a log that had had inclement weather hitting the one side of the log – and what that side does is hold the water – and when that log is felled the side of the log that holds all the water acts as a ballast. To find those logs now is difficult.

For carvers obviously it’s all about the wood?

Without it we can’t carve!

Do you only carve in rakau?

I carve in rakau but I’m also a Ta Moko artist, but the process to pull a three dimensional piece out of a piece of wood is exactly the same as how you would pull a three dimensional piece of out a stone.

Do you see it what’s in it before you carve?

The word Whakairo means to reveal form. As carvers, the mahi of carving is revealing the form that sits inside the rakau. The form that sits in the rakau is already something that sits in your mind. You know how it’s going to come out, but there’s a traditional process to bring it out. It’s something we teach at the centre.

Does the rakau ever resist?

Yeah it does. Especially with Kauri. You might be tapping into the wood with your chisel and it’s like cutting into butter and then all of a sudden, it’s like concrete. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of coercing to get it back to butter. It does whisper to you for sure.

How long have you been carving?

I went to Hornby High School and I played rugby league through my adult life and I travelled a lot – but I could always draw and I carved a little bit at school. It wasn’t until I left professional sports that I wanted to learn how to Ta Moko, and when I studied Ta Moko and looked at other artists work – I could tell whether they were a carver or not. I decided when the kids got a bit older and I had some time, I decided to go and study. So I’ve done Ta Moko for about ten years and been a visual artists for a bit longer. One of my dreams as a kid was to go to Te Puia but I never got there. But I did a degree in Whakairo and I graduated with that in 2019 and that journey of my life came together. The degree was helpful in that it helped me think about things like intellectual property, and commercial and community differences.

That’s an important one  – how do you protect Māori intellectual property…

Exactly. Cultural practices, Māori perspectives, te Reo – it’s a body of knowledge that comes from our ancestors and that IP is directly about what it is you’re creating. The form, the pattern, the embellishment, the colours and materials. You have to be able to talk to absolutely every part of what you’ve created. It’s like looking at an iceberg – you can see the top third, but all of the information sits underneath it. We pass the korero onto the young people who are going to be the kaitiaki of the work. There are so many layers to it.

You can find out more about the The Whakaraupō Carving Centre here.


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