Artist and architect Raukura Turei’s work is an ode to her whakapapa

Some of Raukura Turei’s earliest memories are of time spent along the black-sand shoreline of Tāmaki Makaurau’s Te Henga/Bethells Beach and walking through the Waitākere Ranges. The west-coast whenua/land has been a pivotal locale for the evolution of the artist, architect and designer, and remains a constant source of material inspiration and a place for meditation, where she can pursue her artistic endeavours under the guidance of her tīpuna/ancestors.

ABOVE Irrespective of the medium, Raukura has evolved creatively through her connections to whānau, whakapapa, whenua and the diversity of experiences that connect her to being a wahine Māori. This painting is from her series Te Ngau a Hinemoana 2020.

I [writer Delilah Pārore Southon] first kōrero with Raukura (Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki, Ngā Rauru Kītahi) during Tāmaki Makaurau’s extended lockdown. She greets me on Zoom after a busy day. As we start our call, her partner Mokonuiarangi (Moko) and two-year-old daughter Hinauri (Hina) enter the room. The flow of te reo in her natural tongue in combination with her maternal essence is my first encounter of her strong presence — it allows me to understand the power of this wahine, whose art holds you in a place of questioning and leaves you wanting more.
There’s a beautiful intensity to Raukura. Her mana is dignified and you can feel her puissant energy, even through a screen. She’s the type of wahine you meet and know is carving out a legacy for the next generation. A trained architect but with no formal degree in fine arts, creativity and expertise are seeded in her DNA — she shape-shifts between the roles of practising architect, artist, mother and partner.

TOP The framed work propped up behind a quick sketch Raukura did of Hina is an experimental oil-stick work. Moko made the cut woodblock and woven muka. ABOVE In an oversaturated and sometimes chaotic world, Raukura maintains her mana through connection and creation. She credits the normalising of her te aō Māori worldview at home to Moko and Hina, who are her pou, her unwaivering support, and says the juggle of whānau life, work mode and creative time for the self is a constant negotiation, especially as she lives and works within a largely Pākehā framework.

Raukura’s “primal need to return to mark-making” came from a place of deep grief, which was the catalyst for her emergence as a painter. The juxtaposition of painting with bright, fluorescent, shimmering colour through darkness was profound for her, as she was able to create her own abstract pattern language to get completely lost in. Surrendering to the actions of her body, she paints using natural materials collected from Papatūanuku/Earth Mother, often aumoana/blue clay and onepū/black ironsand. Her paintings evoke the strength of ngā atua wāhine Māori/Māori goddesses, while meditating on the self, sensuality and body sovereignty.

ABOVE A selection of works in progress made using a blend of west coast onepū and aumoana. They’ll be part of Raukura’s next solo presentation at Tauranga gallery Sumer Contemporary Art.

In the five years since her debut The Grief Series, Raukura’s been able to delve into herself by giving time and space to some deep-seated parts of her being. The result is a growing, highly regarded body of work. Having done away with the Western concept of time and Western methodology, she refers to her creative process as her “decolonised time”. She says that now her wairua/spirit is tau/settled and uninfluenced by such external pressures, her paintings are “deep, dark, onepū works” that speak to the mamae/pain that has been lodged within her whakapapa lineage. Being able to transcribe this naturally through her artistic and spiritual impulse has meant she’s found a way to let everything breathe.

ABOVE Raukura’s largest work to date, Te Poho o Hinemoana 2021, will be showing at Objectspace in Tāmaki Makaurau from March.

Raukura’s craft is an ode to her whakapapa. Her kuia/nana was swept off the rocks at Te Henga a year before Raukura was born, so Raukura stands tall in her inherited role as mana wāhine, a role she admits will be a lifelong journey to strive for. There’s clear mana from her kuia in every mark she makes on the canvas.
Honouring her kuia in her mahi/work has also acted as a healing elixir for the other wāhine in her whānau. As well as allowing her kuia to be at the forefront again and opening new healing horizons for generations to come, Raukura’s art practice has ushered in new thought processes for her whānau and new ways for them to grieve their kuia. “I could never have imagined my mahi toi having this effect on my whānau,” she says. Her latest body of work further honours her kuia through the whakapapa of onepū collected from various beaches along the west coast of Tāmaki Makaurau.

ABOVE Pictured at home, Raukura splits her time between her studio practice and her role at Monk Mackenzie. Her painting is a tool to connect to her tīpuna, her practice exhibits feelings of manaakitanga/hospitality and caretaker mentality, and her calling to atua wāhine means that time spent on and by the moana/sea is cathartic. “I always return to Hinemoana [goddess of the ocean] when I need to recharge or shed and let go, especially her roaring west coast,” she says.
Seeking a logic other than the rational, Raukura is paving a legacy for her mokopuna/grandchildren. The examination of her roots in a metaphorical and physical sense is extending her art practice through enchanting nervous ghosts erupting off the whenua, through her and onto canvas. As the proverb goes: Ko te maumahara kore ki ngā whakapapa o ōu matua tīpuna, e rite ana ki te pūkaki awa kāore ōna hikuawa, ki te rākau rānei kāore ōna pakiaka/To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without its source, a tree without its roots.

Words Delilah Pārore Southon (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Roroa, Whakatōhea, Ngāti Pūkenga)
Photography Greta van der Star

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