When cultures meet

Papamoa artist Kereama Taepa with his work ‘Insert Coin’ at the Tauranga Art Gallery. Photo: Nikki South.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be inside a video game? If you step inside the lift at Tauranga Art Gallery you’ll come pretty close.

Papamoa artist Kereama Taepa’s work ‘Insert Coin’, commissioned by the art gallery for its 10th birthday celebrations, uses images from contemporary pop culture mixed with Maori kowhaiwhai designs and symbols to create a unique graphic mash-up.

As you move from floor to floor you can stand back and take in old-school arcade references such as Star Wars, Super Mario Bros, Pac-Man and Tetris.

Around you choppers fly in formation towards a deconstructing, cubic tiki as Super Mario clones bounce away to their own beat. Knuckle-duster daisies smile sweetly beneath a pixelated pare (carved door lintel) that hovers above the only exit

‘Insert Coin’ is one of several works by Kereama that has the Bay of Plenty arts community buzzing at the moment.

He recently won the Supreme Award at the 2017 Rotorua Museum Art Wards with his 3D printed work ‘Bicultural Dialogue I’ and will have several 3D printed works appearing in the upcoming ‘Art of Technology’ experience at the Goddards Centre from October 18-November 5.

Kereama says ‘Insert Coin’ is about growing up in the 80s and being a part of two different cultures – Maori culture and pop culture – and how you bring those two cultures together.

“The overall structure has references to kowhaiwhai and then within that you’ll see references to space invaders and Michael Jordan and all sorts of other things.

“I remember growing up going to the spacies parlour. The first thing on the screen was ‘insert coin’ so you put in your coin, hit one player and you played the game. ‘Insert Coin’ is essentially a nod to a time when I was growing up.”

Kereama’s works in the upcoming ‘Art in Technology’ experience are also a mix of Maori and pop cultures “with a bit of a twist”.

“I’m essentially looking at the practice of carving, without carving.” He is also “ironing out a few kinks” on a virtual reality work.

Kereama studied graphic design as part of his Bachelor of Maori Visual Arts but says technology has definitely changed and influenced his work since then.

“I’m actually more of a sculptor. I grew up playing with sculpting materials as opposed to painting and drawing. In graphic design I learned 2D stuff and I’m self-taught in 3D. Now that 3D printing has come on the scene it’s a little bit more in line with what I naturally do.”

Digital technology allows you to work small scale and large scale at the same time, says Kereama.

“You can work physically and not physically at the same time as well. You can really twist and play with notions of space and time in the digital sphere.”

And how does Kereama see the influence of digital technology on traditional Maori art such as carving?

“To me it’s always about adding on. My Whakapi exhibition at Pataka (museum and gallery in Porirua) essentially addressed that that very thing. Carving is whakairo, which is broken up into two things, whaka and iro. Whaka means ‘to be like’ something and ‘iro’ is the maggot. Iro can be used in a number of different contexts, such as the bug eating away at the wood or it could be used in terms of a maggot eating away at the flesh of a dead person.”

Kereama says some carvers align with eating away at the wood, while others lean towards the maggot eating away at the flesh and leaving patterns in the cartilage.

“Apparently that’s where the tradition started and the designs come from there. So in whakairo, the carver is being like a maggot, taking away the wood to reveal a pattern or form.

“Whakapi offers a new perspective that stems from that same concept. Whaka to be like something and ‘pi’ the honey bee. When they build their hive they excrete wax from their abdomen to build up their structure – an additive process, which is what 3D printing is.

“Whakapi is actually a new practice that is extending on the old practice. It is grounded in a Maori philosophy. The whole idea is that it adds to our traditions.”

Innovation is a Maori tradition in itself, says Kereama.

“When Maori came to New Zealand from the islands we brought tapa cloth and we had to adapt a way of twining to a local material to make more robust clothing because tapa couldn’t stand up. What that told me is that we were very ingenious. We could adapt to the environment and invent new things.

“My environment is way different to those early settlers in the context that I am informed and have different things at my disposal. I’m exposed to a lot of different things, so I’m taking advantage of what’s in my environment just as much as they did.”

Kereama’s latest work will feature in the ‘Art of Technology’ experience at the Goddards Centre, 21 Devonport Rd from 9am-5pm, October 18-November 5 as part of the 2017 Tauranga Arts Festival. Cost is $5 per person or $12 for a family.