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Rei Art Collective

Ngā Toi Māori

Rei is a newly Māori-operated art collective with a retail space located in Lyttleton. It’s comprised of 17 members, all of which encompass a broad range of works and the grassroots collective has some big plans for the future including:

  • Collaborative projects
  • Themes centred on Māori mātauranga
  • Programs, workshops, and educational activities in our retail space as well as Whakaraupō Carving Centre

We spoke to Noah Mackie about the collective, and its new gallery space.

Tell me about Rei?

It’s a collective of artists, Māori and non-Māori, mainly Ōtautahi based, but a few further south, and some overseas. We’re under the mana of Whakaraupō Carving Centre. We’ve had people go through the programmes at Whakaraupō  and now they have an opportunity to showcase their art in this gallery space. We have a range of sculptors, carvers, weavers, visual artists, visual performers, musicians, writers, printers, ta moko artists, tattooists, silver smiths and we’re trying to have as broad a range of artists as we can, especially with Toi. A few of the artists who have jumped on board have told us there’s not a lot of collectivism around.

Particularly in Toi Māori?

Fully. So what we do with the collective is we don’t charge commission and we just use the space as a place to create but by not taking a commission we really want artists – especially non Māori artists – to be more informed on kaupapa Māori Toi. Eventually we would like to do collective projects around Te Ao Māori.

You would like to do some installations on the land as well?

Yeah, I’m based in Melbourne, but when I was back recently, I spent a bit of time doing some hikes around the area and I really wanted to see more things that explain the whakapapa of the land prior to European contact – I actually saw one at Castle Hill done by Fayne Robinson which was great.

The busts on pillars?

That was really cool. We’d love to see more work like that. Being able to tell those stories of Te Wai Pounamu in particular.

There are so many stories in Te Wai Pounamu to be told and so pieces like those sculptural forms are really important.

Totally. That’s my role at Whakaraupō – I write material related to culture and my background is in anthropology and I try to combine theory with evidence and show how a lot of Te Wai Pounamu iwi were very unique in the way they lived their lives. It’s not so much about telling specific stories like ‘On this date…” but more about the migrations, relationships and livelihoods.

Even the whenua is so unique here.

There were a lot of seasonal migrations. A lot of exchange going on. I think a lot of Māori history gets wrapped in a way where warfare was at the forefront of a lot of things but there was so much else going on. There was a lot of reciprocity going on in things like the exchange of materials, and how toi was very symbolic of the relationships between people – and that’s what we are trying to encourage in these collaborative projects and allow artists to have their perspective like strands in a cloak or notches in a whakairo piece.

Some of the courses that Whakaraupō runs with young people are very focused on identity through toi..

A lot of it just gets thought of from a western perspective and toi is just considered as a piece of art through that lens – but they’re two different lenses. We get a lot of people – old and young – many of them who don’t know their whakapapa and toi gives them some insight into themselves. It’s also a really good opportunity for non-Māori to be better informed and make a contribution towards Te Ao Māori as well.

What do you see that contribution as being?

I think when you see a lot of ideas of Māori sovereignty being put forward – especially online – there’s a lot of resistance – almost demonising it, saying it’s ‘taking over’ – and that seems to be challenging to a lot of people. There’s a lot of non-Māori on the face who are confused about it all and they want to contribute but they don’t really know how, and I think creativity is a great way to contribute in some meaningful way.

It creates a bridge into Te Ao Māori doesn’t it?

I think it’s just about mutual aid and cooperation. I think it’s something that many people are trying to look towards now. Remnants of the colony are disappearing, so we should embrace ways of social creativity.

I think people see biculturalism as one thing and they don’t perhaps realise the possibilities.

I’m writing a course at the moment aimed at both Māori and non-Māori because a lot of non-Māori think about their history starting at the time of settlement but actually their whakapapa goes a long way back, before industrialisation and agriculture even, and I’m wanting to frame that everyone’s whakapapa is important. Looking at history on a broader scale rather than in narrow focus, which might offer some longevity to the future.

We have to think differently about all sorts of things – even the way we create toi. Carving is different now because we don’t have access to traditional materials. How do we incorporate traditional art forms into non-traditional materials?

It’s evolving a lot. I was in Auckland Tāmaki recently and there’s a lot of contemporary toi up there from young students coming straight out of a degree course and some of it was incredible. Allowing that innovation of toi is a fundamental part of us evolving together. Some people like to cling on to traditional aspects – which is fine – but you do have to allow room for experimentation and innovation as well.

The gallery space is located on Norwich Quay in Lyttelton – and you’re getting interest from locals?

People are excited. There are a couple of non-Māori artists who have done Māori work who don’t really have the tikanga around it – and so we’re also working with them so they can understand the importance of tikanga and kawa.

I suppose that’s also the case around pounamu.

Yes. It’s important to know who procured it. What part of the country it came from – all that stuff really matters. That sort of knowledge is important.

Who is involved in the collective?

We have a range of diverse artists. We have a weaver now – we’re trying to have a range of diverse artists. All the perspectives matter.

Do you need more people?

Definitely. We’d love to have a chat to any practitioner who might be interested. We’re also looking to create a bridge with local businesses – so perhaps eventually business could lease Māori Toi. They could have a series of works relevant to a theme, such as Matariki. So toi artists still retain sovereignty over their work but allows Toi Māori to be in the public space. When I left Ōtautahi at eighteen and then coming back –I’ve never seen so much toi in the city. Going from not seeing that, to seeing that, is a gradual difference. The cruise ships come in and tourists come in and they ask about it. They want to know about it and that’s great to see as well. And new possibilities and ways of doing things have potential to spread on a global scale.

Toi art is the only point of difference we have in Aotearoa – it’s unique to us.

If someone sees a carving, they know its Māori art. With tourism opening back up, I think it’s important to have more Māori art on display. We want to help with that and hopefully toi and art can bring us together and invoke solidarity between cultures.



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