Meet the artists who conceived and crafted the artworks that inhabit Te Ao Mārama. Hear them describe their process, their considerations, and their aspirations for how their works will live in this space. 


Manulua, by Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi


Nesting on the western and eastern legs of the tanoa, this high-flying artwork, entitled Manulua, was created by Sopolemalama Filipe Tohi, a Tāmaki Makaurau-based artist of Tongan descent. Having a prominent Pacific art piece in the South Atrium signals the presence of our Pacific tuakana, and also acknowledges the connections and shared whakapapa and history between Aotearoa and the Pacific.

Manulua means 'two spiritual birds' in Tongan, but if you cast your eyes around Te Ao Mārama in the right light, you'll see these two birds become a flock as they multiply in the reflections of the windows.

Artist's statement

Manulua are two aluminium sculptures which are a critical and very special component of Te Ao Mārama, South Atrium, and the Museum. They reflect the Museum’s commitment to Pacific communities and its wider Pacific dimension. This is symbolised by the positioning of the Manulua sculptures on the tanoa – Talitali ‘Au Moana – which was directly inspired by a Pacific kava bowl.

As a central feature of the South Atrium, the Manulua are placed on the legs of the tanoa, signifying the stability and resilience of the kava bowl and the communities it represents. The sculptures are based on an ancient pattern of the Pacific from Tongan lalava (lashing). Lalava is used in traditional Island buildings, tools and vaka (canoe) as the means of binding together. For me, lashing symbolises the unity of all things; past, present and future. 

Manulua translates as ‘two spiritual birds’ in Tongan. Spirituality is represented in the artworks' triangular designs, as well as the colour red, which is important and meaningful across Pacific cultures. Birds represent voyaging, migration, homecoming, unity and connection. Manulua symbolically connects people physically, artistically and culturally to place, from the past to present and into the future, to bring the vā together in the South Atrium and our Museum.

Te Tatau Kaitiaki, by Graham Tipene


Te Tatau Kaitiaki is by renowned artist Graham Tipene (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Manu, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Haua), who has whakapapa links both to Ngāti Whātua Orākei and the far north. As you pass through these doors, stop and take another look at the figures in the carving, which tells the story of Tipene's own mother and great-grandmother. 

The carving depicts two women coming together in a hongi (the meeting of the breath): Kane Nepu Paora, the grandmother, and Mere Paea Tipene, the granddaughter, acknowledging tuakana-teina relationships (the senior to junior energy). 

Below them are two manaia: Kaiwhare and Horotiu, who dwell in the waters on either side of the Tāmaki Isthmus. They represent an ancient and intangible connection to each rohe and the importance of the two waters for access between east and west. They are kaitiaki: guardians who keep us safe and evoke our appreciation of their role within our storytelling.

While the figures in the carving have their own story in Tipene's whakapapa, the tōtara that was carved to make the doors has its own story, too. It was salvaged from Mangakāhia, having been harvested generations ago and laying silently in a river for many decades. Tipene travelled north with other members of the Museum whānau to connect with the rākau in its raw, natural form before it was milled. The glowing red of timber is thus a tangible connection to our Northern-most iwi of Tāmaki Makaurau, Ngāti Whātua o Kaipara.

Learn more about Te Tatau Kaitiaki's tikanga role here

Artist's statement

Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini
My success is not mine alone. It is the work of many


This piece represents the first voice of welcome. It represents the Mana of Women. It is guidance and learning. It is the land, the ocean, the people and the stars. It is guardianship through deities. It is a visual representation of all we seek to keep us connected to our past. This piece acknowledges this building as a kaitiaki of taonga. This piece acknowledges change. This piece acknowledges the whakapapa of all who keep taonga safe.

When piecing this work together, I knew it was going to have multiple representations. The wāhine are the karanga into the space. The kaitiaki represents guardianship past, present and future. The whakarare design in the rear speaks to change and growth. When the doors are closed, the piece is mirrored and represents old and new. The guardians are kaitiaki from the two Moana on either side of the Auckland Isthmus. The tōtara used comes from the Mangakāhia Valley at the border of Ngāti Whātua and the northern tribes. 

Wāhi Whakanoa, by Chris Bailey


Our two new wāhi whakanoa, Hine-pū-te-hue and Rongomātāne, were carved by Chris Bailey (Ngāti Paoa, Ngāti Hako, Ngāti Porou, Te Aupouri), and take their names from two atua (deities). Hine-pū-te-hue is the daughter of Tāne, and is the female guardian of the hue (gourd). Rongomātāne is the male entity, and is associated with peace and cultivated plants. Their sheltered position on either side of Te Tatau Kaitiaki ensures that they are visible to visitors, who will be reminded to wash in them as they exit Te Ao Mārama.

Artist's statement

Nau mai, haere mai e te kawe o te hue.

This is a dimly remembered greeting used during whaikōrero that has been referenced by renowned historian Te Kapunga Matemoana “Koro” Dewes. This greeting extends back in time and acknowledges Samoa “Havai’i” as one of the cradles of Polynesian culture.

For Māori, the heke (rafters) of the whare tūpuna – the descent lines from the tāhuhu – carry kowhaiwhai patterns. These patterns are derived from the vine of the hue (gourd) and pitau (fern frond), which were carried here by our early navigational ancestors, such as Tumutumuwhenua. The vine of the hue is a strong, continuous connection between the gourd and the whenua. Like the vine, there are strong and continuous connections between Aotearoa and Te Moana nui a Kiwa. This use of the hue in this design reflects our links back to our Polynesian heritage, our tuakana – I wish to acknowledge this whakapapa.

This connection to the Pacific also speaks to the presence of the Vā in the wider South Atrium space and the importance of whakapapa connections that are present between all the cultural elements (the Wāhi Whakanoa, Te Tatau Kaitiaki, Manulua, tanoa, and the mauri stone).

In addition to this, the hue as a food source negates tapu, and they were traditionally used as calabashes to carry water for cleansing and other day to day activities.

These two wāhi whakanoa, while abstract in appearance, reference the form of the hue it has been cut so as to act as calabash. While the two individual wāhi whakanoa are literally reflected in appearance, they are symetrically balanced to reflect the layout of the Museum, acknowledging the balance of having both female and male energies present. One pays tribute to Hine Pu Te Hue, the daughter of Tāne, and the female guardian of the hue; the other to Rongo-mā-tāne, the male entity associated with peace and the cultivated plants such as the hue.

Learn more about the Wāhi Whakanoa's tikanga role here


Brett Graham


The granite vessels either side of the entrance take their title, Whaowhia, from the motto of the Auckland Museum Institute (look up and you'll see the crest engraved above the doors). Whaowhia are essentially 'storehouses of knowledge', and Graham's are adorned with elements that embody the spirit of the Museum and pay homage to its history, extensive collections, and contribution to science in Aotearoa New Zealand. Each vessel is made of horizontal layers and no effort has been made to conceal this. The layers refer to cultural reconstruction and also to the piling of bodies slain in battle, alluding to the Museum's te reo name, Tāmaki Paenga Hira (Paenga is to ceremonially lay out on a marae or a chiefly boundary, and is a reference to those fallen in battle; Hira is numerous, abundant or of consequence).  

Their position here, flanking the entrance to Te Ao Mārama, acknowledges the Museum as a container of cultural, historical, and scientific materials, a preserver and protector, a pātaka mātauranga. 

Edmiston Trust Collection, Auckland War Memorial Museum