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Hemi Schuster was a stay-at-home dad before he came to Te Wānanga o Aotearoa to study Kāwai Raupapa Level 4 - whakairo and is now studying for his diploma in the artform.

As a self-taught tattooist, the Ngāti Raukawa, Tuwharetoa father-of-two says he picked up the chisels because he was getting more and more requests for kirituhi and tā moko and wasn’t sure he knew enough to do them justice.

“I felt like I needed more knowledge and my thought was that tā moko came from carving. Looking at other tā moko artists, they’ve got some sort of carving behind them,” he says.

He knew about the programme as his father had already completed the Toi Paematua whakairo degree in Papaioea. Now he says, as he delves deeper into the wood, he has made some interesting discoveries, including a growing interest for whakairo.

“It’s definitely helped improve me as a tā moko artist but now I’m leaning towards putting down the tattoo gun and following my passion for whakairo. That’s a journey in itself.”

Hemi is already considering ways to give back to the community using his new skills and hopes to be able to one day pass on what he’s learned.

During his course, the Papatoetoe resident has also been pleasantly surprised by the number of learners from different countries.

“A lot of people just give it a go. If you’re willing to learn that’s the main thing. I do think that it’s good to share our artform and our teacher’s knowledge. I love being here, it’s perfect for people who are passionate about art or have a background in art.”

Hemi was part of Toi Tū Festival – a week-long collaborative showcase of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa Māori Visual and Performing Arts tauira that takes place at the Māngere Arts Centre every year in August.

As part of the festival, Hemi and his classmates began work on a new totara lintel piece, or Pare, in the lead up to celebrating 10 years of carving classes in Tāmaki Makaurau next year.
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