of vaka, schools and spray cans


The Ports of Auckland have been responsible for managing my weekends of late, what with Round the Bays a coupla weeks ago, and the Onehunga Festival last Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed both, though, and I’m not complaining at all. In between the excellent Jamaican jerk pork with festival and the very nice performance by Unknown Peace, the highlights were the three conversations I had.
The first was with Ian Calhaem, who was at the festival with a traditional Pukapukan ‘vaka-ama’, an outrigger canoe. The traditional carving knowledge represented in this vaka was dying out, till the canoe carving festivals that started in 2007(?) in Rarotonga, and in which Ian was involved. Considered a huge success, this carving festival is becoming an annual event, giving new life to traditional knowledge forms. The particular vaka Ian had brought was used in Pukapuka for fishing and general cargo. One part I found rather amazing were the stitches that join the wood together. These are completely watertight, and are made so by a combination of fine carving skills, and various applications of ash and whale oil. While this particular one had no sails, there are larger ones that do.
While I am no luddite, I think it is a pity that we lose so much of traditional (often oral) knowledge in our headlong full-pelt scramble for modernity. It is good that the Ian Calhaems of the world remind us of what we could well lose if we are not careful.
Ian would, with the support of a master carver from Ngati Whatua (the local Maori tribe), like to have a similar carving festival in Auckland. This would be open for people to participate in, and a brilliant way to revive interest in this knowledge. What is currently missing is a log (or multiple logs) to carve the waka from. I understand his particular interest is in reviving knowledge of Maori river and lagoon canoes. He says even pine would do- anyone with a log or two to spare?
The second conversation was with Simon Hertnon, who is part of a group of people trying to prevent the Auckland City Council from uprooting Monte Cecilia school for an extension to a park. What got me thinking (and rather riled) was when he spoke of how a Councillor said that the new addition would make Monte Cecilia park the “jewel in the crown that is Auckland’s parks”. I, for one, have had quite enough of jewels and crowns. While I understand that there is something to be said for running a city like one would a business, and am a fan of more public spaces, I think it is ridiculous to treat communities as if they were billboards to attract investment.
The third conversation was again for proposed changes, though of a much more appealing nature. Glen Armstrong, who owns/operates the Onehunga and Ellerslie branches of the House of Travel was asking for petitions to be signed in favour of more street art/murals in the Onehanga community. “More art and less tagging” seemed to be his catchline. His own store in Onehanga had a mural on the (outside) wall, featuring the work of K-road based artists Cut Collective. While I could not take a look at his store, I have seen a few of the collective's pieces around town, and really love what they do.
While the art world seems to have come to terms with spray can painting as art, I am not sure if our communities are quite as welcoming yet. I was glad to see that he had four pages of signatures by about half way through the festival. If you are part of the Onehunga community, do pass this on- it would be good to see an entire community business district covered in murals! Honestly, isn't is about time we brought art *out of the museums and art galleries onto the streets?
So then, POAL, what have you got planned next?

4 comments:

Shuakshuali said...

Bringing art "out of the museums and art galleries onto the streets". I like. Went to the recent art exhibition in Aizawl and our artists were not bad at all, though they were more than a little influenced by western art.

Though it does beg the question- if they brought their art out in the streets, would we call it graffiti and denounce them as 'unchristian' again? (Considering that there were nude drawings there)I keep going back to this topic. Sorry. Guess I'm having my own crisis of faith.

Intersting read, specially that part about the vaka-ama. Would love to sail in one :)

mesjay said...

Quite a bellyful of thoughtful conversations, eh? Talking of traditional skills, i'm quite afraid we're losing our weaving and bamboo crafts. They don't seem to have much use any more.

Is there a plan to give the school an alternate place? The universal problem of not treating one another right...

About street art, interesting. But won't they hold up traffic? The huge hoardings are already bad enough, i think.

feddabonn said...

@shuakshuali: saw (photos of) and liked some of the pieces at the exhibition.

i increasingly think *most of what we call 'art' is western in origin. while our tribal cultures have had our own visual culture and developed those, their role was/is functional as well as aesthetic (ex. the puan). while i know little about mainland indian art, i think a lot of it was educational/aesthetic, religious/aesthetic etc. same can be said of western art, of course, till after the renaissance, i think, when it became more about aesthetics.

yes, bringing art out would be graffiti, and then there is the whole discussion about what is 'acceptable' graffiti and what is not.

nudity-chhristianity...a whole other discussion! all i can say is this, i believe when asking questions (especially of faiths) your primary responsibility is honesty to yourself, not acceptability to others.

feddabonn said...

@mesjay: i think we will regain a lot of our weaving and bamboo crafts if we could find relevance for them. ian mentioned that before the workshops, there would be vaka rotting on the beaches, and no one knew what they were. now, these have re-entered 'normal' life, and are no longer just the property of museums. some (at least) of the puan designs are being kept alive in the fashion shows. don't know about the bamboo weaving though.

there *is a plan to give the school an alternate place, but that would be $10-15 million, taken from tax payers money. not sure it is worth it.

the street art i have seen so far in auckland seems to be more pedestrian access. often (not-so-legally) in dark alleys, but definitely not on billboards. thats one of the things we like about aotearoa NZ- very few billboards.