Te Whare Tapa Whā comes to life in a new collaborative artwork by community mental health
On Wednesday, the 14th of September a group of tāne gathered in Wāhi Oranga (the Mental Health Unit) at Nelson Hospital to unveil a painting that had been in the works since Matariki, when the idea for a collaborative artwork that represented their “dreams of wellness” began.
Lewis Boyles, Community Mental Health Nurse, says that the themes the tāne wanted to explore in a work of art developed over the course of Matariki celebrations, amid the songs of taonga puoro (traditional Māori musical instruments) and a hāngī that had to be above ground due to rain. The painting would hang on the walls of Wāhi Oranga, a place the tāne had found respite in in the past and continued to be involved with on a community level.
Participant Kahukura Ta Kumeroa explains that the collaborative painting was the group’s first foray into art. Formed four years ago, the rōpū had mostly been focused on movement and exercise: “We’ve met each week for about two years now. We’ve done rowing in the waka, we’ve done boxing, we’ve a little bit of kickboxing, walks up hills. We work out at the free, outside gyms around town.”
To begin the art-marking process, Lewis contacted Nelson-based painter and installation artist Monica Hailes-Paku for guidance. At the resulting hui, the consensus was that the painting should reflect Te Whare Tapa Whā, a model developed in 1984 by Māori health advocate Sir Mason Durie.
As participant Daniel Tims explains, both the concept and the painting “bring a bit of spirituality to people. It shows the things that matter to them, like their whānau and the land, the earth, and our people. I am part Māori— I’m Ngāpuhi, so I think it is good in that way. It’s a holistic approach. There’s lot of things that affect us: physical health, our mental health, our whanau, our roots. It’s everything.”
Together with Monica, the group decided to incorporate the same kōwhaiwhai pattern that can be found on the main entrance of Nelson Hospital.
“The kōwhaiwhai pattern linked all these ideas together and linked it to the wider health community as well,” Monica says.
Kahukura explains that the next step was to secure materials and sponsors in order to coordinate a day of celebration to make the painting. A staff member from Te Ara Mahi donated the canvas and Magenta Art Space donated the brushes and provided a space for the painting to be completed. The Warehouse donated T-shirts to the tāne, and Trents donated food for a hāngī. The tāne rōpū applied for, and were granted, further funding from the Care Foundation.
Monica painted the outlines, positioned the Matariki stars, and started off the kōwhaiwhai pattern in the corners.
“Once I’d done that we made it available on the day of celebration and everyone had a paintbrush and painted in what they wanted to contribute.”
Lewis says that on the day of celebration “everyone was shy to contribute at first but people warmed up.”
The painting was completed at Magenta Creative Space on Hardy Street in Nelson, a studio space that provides creative and emotional support to people affected by mental health distress and conditions.
“Many artists contributed to it, so it is held together by love, I think,” says Monica. “We are very grateful you have accepted it as a gift to Wāhi Oranga.”
Lewis says that the painting represents the “dreams of wellness” the participants hold. He points out the way the sky transitions from the brightness of daylight to the darkness of night.
“We talked about sometimes coming into Wāhi Oranga when things are hard and dark and then coming into the light, moving from the realm of Te po to Te ao.”
“I am breathless about this beautiful work hanging in our whare,” Noi Burgess, Poumanaaki Cultural Support, concludes. “It will remind us of the pathway of wellness, the pathway of healing. It reminds us about the reason we come together. Hopefully when you see this you won’t feel so pouri because you created this.”