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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.