"My koro and nanny instilled in me the intrinsic values that are Manaaki. They are, and have become, their koha to me that forms the central part of my identity. Manaaki is our tikanga and a part of the Māori worldview that was, and still is, intergenerational. As a kid, I lived with my grandparents. Between the ages of 8 and 12, my job was to help my nanny peel the corn and potatoes, clean the veggies, set the tables (especially at the pā), serve our old people first, and have a special cuppa tea trolley set up for any kaumatua that came to visit. I encourage you to think about how Manaaki manifests in your everyday life and how it exists within your own identity." - Hiria Anderson-Mita, 2023
For this exhibition Hiria Anderson-Mita (b.1974, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Apakura, Ngāti Rereahu) examines Manaaki through a suite of paintings, each representing the tikanga of supporting, protecting, welcoming, and caring for others.
Anderson-Mita paints from her home studio on Tūrongo Street in Ōtorohanga, where the artist’s koro and nanny raised their children and later their granddaughter. Creatives in the traditional forms of Mahi Raranga and Whakairo, her grandparents were involved in Ngā Puna Waihanga, a network of Māori artists, writers, and makers that emerged in the 1970s. From a young age Anderson-Mita was deeply immersed in this artistic community, often accompanying her grandparents up and down the motu, and this early exposure to different art forms was highly influential, eventually leading to her joining the association and later enrolling in Te Kura Toi - Visual Arts tutored by James Ormsby and Eugene Kara, where she studied painting, drawing, sculpture, and art history.
“As a painter I am interested in representation of Māori within the context of the European history of painting,” says the artist. Growing up, paintings and prints from various artists hung on the walls of the family home, including Salvador Dali, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Johannes Vermeer. Anderson-Mita recalls being particularly captivated by the Dutch painter’s remarkable ability to capture light, something she also found in the paintings of New Zealand artist Graeme Sydney. Anderson-Mita’s own paintings frequently explore the subtle qualities of light; the way it can be harnessed to evoke a particular mood or sense of immediacy, and to define the composition of work. In Ice blocks at midnight (2023), figures are bathed in the artificial light outside a convenience store, set against the black backdrop of the night; He Kōrero He Katakata (2023) sees a bright shard of light streaming through the window and across the canvas; and in Ātea (2023) a shadow falls on the steps at the entrance to a wharenui, that space where visitors are welcomed and issues are debated.
Anderson-Mita’s fondness for light might also be traced back to high school, where the artist studied photography, and witnessed firsthand the transformative properties of light as images came to life in the darkroom. To this day, Anderson-Mita works from photographs, using them as a starting point for her paintings, a means of framing and composing scenes in a similar way to a sketchbook. “For me, it’s part of my practice and the way I see.”
Outside the family home on Tūrongo Street sits a wharenui, built by the artist’s koro years ago, the interior lined with panels carved in her grandfather’s distinct tukutuku and colour palette, each describing a different kōrero. Anderson-Mita has dedicated many hours to studying these panels, in time developing her own patterns and colours. A series of works depict medications with accompanying tukutuku. Stemming from Anderson-Mita’s experience with her partner’s illness, these works are bold in their inherent vulnerability. “All these little experiences that you have along the way build the character that you are and what you put into your work as well”, she says. “As I live my life the paintings take shape.” While on one hand these works are deeply intimate, on the other they extend far beyond the artist and her own immediate relationships. “I am conscious of how personal that work can be but for me it is not just him that is suffering. Our families, our whānau, our hapū, our iwi, and those in Aotearoa are suffering with renal failure and diabetes and all those chronic illnesses,” says Anderson-Mita. “I paint about those things that are affecting our people.”
- The above text draws heavily on a recent conversation between the artist and Graeme Douglas for the podcast The Good Oil, which features long format interviews many wonderful New Zealand painters. You can listen here.