Navigation is one of the themes or ideas that universally figure across the world, across cultures and across generations. We all have stories of departure and arrival and negotiating the bit in-between.
As a theme it occupies a central space within the concept of Tuia 250, the commemoration of the first interaction between Māori and Europeans, an interaction that took place through James Cook’s arrival to Aotearoa in the year 1769.
Te Whanganui-o-Hei or Mercury Bay, is a location inherently tied to the legacy of this country’s history driven by Cook’s observation of the Transit of Mercury and subsequent actions, both his deeds and misdeeds.
Coming into Whitianga-o-Kupe (Whitianga) with the area’s layers of history coalescing around a festival concept of weaving or binding together (tuia), we wanted to build an artwork to host a number of ideas, acknowledge a range of events, and ask a few questions.
While our work address’ the idea of navigation in a relatively literal sense through the use of iconography and symbolism, what isn’t so easy to read is how this idea manifests beyond a historical sense and into modern day life.
The connection between people and place, the legacy of Pacific navigation and the expertise of its practitioners, the wonder of discovery and the potential of its impact; these are the ideas explored through the inclusion of elements such as the polynesian stick chart, the seven stars of Matariki (Seven Sisters or the Pleiades star cluster), the Hinau plant documented in Te Whanganui-o-Hei by the Endeavour’s Sydney Parkinson, and Kupe’s purported arrival in the year 950 on the waka Matahourua.
The central element within the artwork is the koekoeā or Long Tailed Cuckoo, specifically Te Kawa who is intertwined in a legend around the voyager Whatonga and his liberation as a cast away through the birds ability to locate his party carrying a tau ponapona or message cord from his family, thereby enabling his return home. Additionally another story tells us the koekoeā along with the horirerire (grey warbler), huia, and kuaka (godwit) were brought to Aotearoa in the legendary Tākitumu waka known as Te Waka Tapu O Tākitimu.
However, beyond the historic context in which we might acknowledge and contemplate the idea of navigation, today we navigate a world no less fraught and no less challenging. While our landscape is vastly different to those who ventured into the pacific and at some point or another found their way here to these shores, the role of navigation is as critical now as it was to Kupe, Toitehuatahi or Cook. For us we navigate a political, economic, social and cultural landscape in a time of change that presents great challenge and great opportunity. We address the role location and dislocation plays in our collective and individual sense of self, and how when “place” is challenged, it challenges our identity. We explore how to operate within a multi-cultural world while addressing and honouring our bi-cultural framework. We seek understanding and enlightenment at a time where the movement and migration of human kind is unparalleled.
And as we undertake this journey, this voyage, we can only think on the conviction, the fortitude, the vision and the optimism of the aforementioned explorers. We can hope to harness the essence of that and bring it to bear on our own actions, our own words and our own decisions.