A new tā moko/tattoo studio and gallery space in Hastings is backed by five local men who are all Bachelor of Māori Art graduates of Toimairangi, the school of Māori Visual Arts.
Awa Ink in Heretaunga St opened two months ago and features five tā moko stations and walls covered in works from artists around the country, many of whom have also come through Toimairangi, which is hosted at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.
The five owners - Tāmanuhiri Russell, Charles Paringatai, Tāwhirimatea Prisk, Cody Hollis and Earl Heke – are Maunga Kura Toi (Bachelor of Māori Art) graduates and were taught by one of New Zealand’s most highly regarded artists, Sandy Adsett.
Tāmanuhiri says they decided to open their own studio to provide a welcoming space for manuhiri to visit and get mahi done, along with being able to display their art as they continue to develop their skills.
“It is an environment where we strive to be our best and really try and connect with our clients, whether they’re from Omahu or Omaha, in the United States,” he says.
“The goal is to look after people and provide a high quality service, whether that’s receiving tā moko or purchasing artworks. We’re aiming at creating high quality art works and we should be producing much better work than when we graduated. That’s the challenge.”
Red stickers on some of the art on the walls of Awa Ink show they’re producing the quality, but Tāmanuhiri says the quantity is proving harder to achieve.
“Some days are so busy we are finding we haven’t had much time to paint,” he says.
He says while their studies didn’t specifically teach them about running a business, it did show them how to successfully present their stories through art.
“Sandy showed us how to put our best foot forward, how to organise and run things like exhibitions, how to curate, how to solve problems, and most importantly the importance of manaakitanga.”
After graduating, all five business owners aimed at making a living from the arts and the establishment of Awa Ink has enabled them to do that.
Tāmanuhiri, who formerly worked for Watties, says he decided to study art after being called out by his daughter. He had always encouraged her to chase her dreams. However, when she asked him if working at Watties was his dream, he realised the hypocrisy of the situation, quit his job and enrolled in the arts degree.
“I never thought this was an option for me. When I signed up at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, I didn’t even know how to paint. I had no desire to gain a degree. I just wanted to do art.”
When he finished his degree, he had offers to work in tattoo studios in Auckland, Queenstown, Europe and Australia but decided to stay in Hastings.
“This is home, the kids love it here and I really enjoy doing mahi in my hometown. We are all passionate about this and want to lift the arts and do our iwi, hāpu and whānau proud.”
Awa Ink is at 350 Heretaunga St, Hastings.