Making art. Image: Ariane Craig-Smith.
Making art. Image: Ariane Craig-Smith.

On 21 June, about 25 adults and children assembled in the Auckland Art Gallery | Toi o Tāmaki’s Todd Foundation Creative Learning Centre to participate in an immersive art and science workshop. The workshop was organised by Toi Taiao Whakatairanga, a project within NRT’s Mobilising for Action, and addressed kauri dieback, myrtle rust and our ngahere (forest).

The workshop included a presentation by Dr Nick Waipara (Rongawhakaata and Ngāti Ruapani ki Turanga), a Māori Science leader and plant pathologist at Plant & Food with expertise in kauri dieback and myrtle rust, and was integrated into the pre-existing exhibition Te Hā o Te Wao Nui a Tāne | The Breath of Tāne by Charlotte Graham (Ngāti Mahuta, Ngāti Tamaoho, Te Ākitai Waiohua, Ngāti Whanaunga, Ngāti Pāoa, Ngāti Kotimana).

Charlotte’s exhibit (19 December 2020 – 1 August 2021) invited visitors to use beeswax crayons, hexagonal pieces of tracing paper and rubbing plates of birds, bats, insects and plants made from Charlotte’s drawings to make artworks which could then be glued lightly to the walls of the space. This formed a collectively made korowai (cloak) of Tāne that echoed the texture of kauri bark.

By the time of the workshop, the cloak had grown to create the sensation of being immersed in the ngahere.

The workshop started with a karakia and brief introduction by the Toi Taiao Whakatairanga team. Charlotte then gave participants paper and pencils and asked them to write down words and phrases that stood out from the presentation or to draw their response.

In the presentation, Nick used the concept of ‘ngarara’, or monsters, to characterise the diseases and how they act on plants. He provided rich visuals that included details of not only the leaves and flowers, but also the spores and other signs of disease.

Participants worked on their drawings after the presentation during a richly conversational Q & A punctuated by delighted comments on each other’s work. The boundaries between artist, research team, gallery staff and audience melted as participants, young and old, engaged with the workshop’s art material and with the ecological concepts.

Most attendees left drawings with Charlotte to add to the korowai of Tāne, and nearly all left the workshop with a drawing to keep – and hopefully a richer understanding of kauri dieback and myrtle rust as well as the ecological and social intersections between different species, people and the ngahere.

This workshop is one of the first outputs of Toi Taiao Whakatairanga. Toi Taiao Whakatairanga is a three-year research collaboration by a cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary research team, including artists, curators, researchers, conservationists and creative academics.

The project is part of Mobilising for Action, supported by the Bioheritage National Science Challenge, Ngā Rakau Taketake. Toi Taiao Whakatairanga explores the ways in which the arts can intersect with science and mātauranga Māori to cultivate and grow public awareness and kaitiakitanga, with a specific focus on kauri dieback and myrtle rust.

We look forward to showcasing projects like this as Toi Taiao Whakatairanga continues to work with artists to promote the development of public artworks and events through creative engagement with iwi, hapu and communities across areas impacted by kauri dieback and myrtle rust.

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