No stranger to distilling the stories of diverse whakapapa, Kirikiriroa-based clothing and jewellery designer Nichola Te Kiri draws on her dual Māori and Pākeha heritage to tell stories through worn objects. Nichola was one of a panel of designers and artists who were approached to submit a design for the project, each of whom was presented with a selection of taonga selected by our Human History and Māori and Pacific Development teams: a korowai cloak, a manulua, a piece of tapa cloth and a patikitiki pattern.
The taonga were chosen to represent manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga: protection, knowledge, hospitality and generosity. Nichola began by researching the taonga offered as inspiration: their stories, their makers, and the actual physical structure of each object, searching for the design and structural components that would inform her design.
Nichola returned to the Museum to study the collection objects themselves, the layers, and the different elements. From there she devised the tohu (design) that embodied the kōrero she wanted to have, dominated by birds’ wings (a reference to Rongo) and diamond shapes (embodying protection and shelter). The triangle of the bird wings also point to the three-part natural world paradigm of Te Kore (the void), Te Pō (the darkness), and Te Ao Mārama (the world of light). Just like the objects that inform them, the motifs in the fabric are also layered: when the triangular birds’ wing form is flipped it transfigures the manu (bird) into a maunga (mountain), which in turn references the Museum’s place on Pukekawa, and also the wider Tāmaki region when seen from the Dome atop the Museum, ringed as it is by mountains.
Nichola describes how the colours, too, speak to the objects in the collections inside the Museum as well as the world outside its walls: “The palette of blues, browns and greens all represent the connection to the land, connection to the sky, connection to the sea.” A meeting between Nichola and friend and artist Graham Tipene, whose Ngāti Whatua o Ōrākei whakapapa connects him specifically to Tāmaki Makaurau, uncovered further layers: the design also features the patiki (flounder), of which there was an abundance milling around the original foreshore that used to lap right up to the foot of the present-day Domain.
Though the design is digitally rendered and printed, the pattern retains the traces of Nichola’s digital brushstrokes. The textural background of the design also references hukahuka, evoking the feathers of a kahu huruhuru (feather cloak). The triangular forms sailing along the top of the frieze are birds, referencing the manulua – Nichola has imagined them as kahu (hawk), which hold significance as a kaitiaki for her as well Ngāti Whatua o Ōrākei. “Everything seemed to fit,” Nichola says.
Nichola has named the final design Kahu Tāmaki. At the end of such a long design process with such diverse criteria, how did Nichola know the design was finished? “The piece does represent all of these diverse elements, but it’s really about connection, relationships, and collaboration,” Nichola says. “I knew it was done because I felt proud.”
“I’ve really enjoyed working with the team. This project feels like it’s not just me, it’s such a team effort.”