Photo credit: Charlotte Faith Johnston
A Te Wānanga o Aotearoa masters tauira has gone from working in security to taking part in international arts residencies where he shares his weaving expertise with indigenous artists.
Te Atiwei Ririnui has recently returned to Aotearoa from a two-week Sonoran Arts Residency in Ajo, Arizona, where he worked with local artists, learned about the local Tohono O’odham Nation, held talks about his mahi and forged relationships which could lead to further arts exchanges in the future.
He says he was humbled to be selected for the residency and enjoyed learning about different styles of weaving, while creating a kete whakairo as a contribution to his hosts.
“It was an opportunity to share and engage with the indigenous and loal people of Ajo Arizona, particularly the Tohono O’odham Nation,” he says.
“Their weaving style is very different so it’s interesting to see the difference, it gives you a fresh perspective of another indigenous culture’s technique of basketry.”
For Te Atiwei, learning about weaving has been a lifelong mission.
He began weaving at the age of eight and has been exhibiting since his teens. In 2005 he made his first visit to Arizona, taking part in an annual basketry and food festival, and the following year was the New Zealand ambassador at a Melbourne exhibition held in support of the Commonwealth games.
After many years honing his craft and attending wānanga and building relationships, in 2016, Te Atiwei enrolled in the He Waka Hiringa Master of Applied Indigenous Knowledge degree at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, receiving the Dr Diggeress Te Kanawa Scholarship from the Aotearoa Scholarship Trust.
“I’m very grateful for the support I had from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and the Aotearoa Scholarship Trust.”
He received further recognition when his work featured on a stamp as part of the 2016 Matariki series and he has continued to exhibit, take part in weaving wānanga and create stunning pieces of weaving before graduating from Te Wānanga o Aotearoa 2018 and being accepted for the Sonoran Arts Residency. Also in 2018, a hieke he made was bought by the London Royal Academy of Arts for the Oceania Exhibition while he has also been involved in the Te Rā Project, which aims to recreate miniature versions of the last known Māori sail in existence.
Te Atiwei says making a successful international career out of weaving is something he always planned.
“I always intended to go international and share my weaving with the world. The kaupapa of He Waka Hiringa is not just something that stays stagnant, it keeps on moving,” he says.
And he encourages others with a passion for something to follow that passion.
“You’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose. What you put in is what you get out.”