“Transforming intergenerational trauma into deeply felt joy one crochet loop at a time” is the catchcry of crochet artists Lissy and Rudi Robinson-Cole.
Lissy (Ngāti Hineamaru, Ngāti Kahu) and Rudi (Waikato, Ngāti Paoa, Ngaruahine, Te Arawa) live in Tāmaki Makaurau where their lives are filled with aroha, joy, colour, fluro-coloured wool and crochet needles.
In fact, their mission is to take on the world and ignite joy on a global scale. “To be creative is our super-power,” Lissy says. “We want to celebrate our beautiful culture and share mātauranga Māori, Māori knowledge.”
As well as delivering crochet workshops for people in the community, including in Mt Eden Corrections Facility pre-COVID-19, they have almost completed their latest and most ambitious project, Wharenui Harikoa (house of joy) – a full-scale wharenui crocheted in various shades of fluro pink, yellow, blue, green and orange wool.
In 2018, Lissy and Rudi’s tupuna gifted them the vision of Wharenui Harikoa as an opportunity to spread joy, aroha and hope. They set to work creating the wharenui and in December this year, the completed work will be exhibited at the Waikato Museum in Hamilton.
3D rendition of Wharenui Harikoa
In the meantime, the artists are working with immersive design company iSparx to create a 3D rendition of Wharenui Harikoa. Piece by piece, it will capture the individual taonga – the poupou, tekoteko, tukutuku panels and adorned pou tokomanawa – making up the wharenui.
The 3D project was supported with funding from Creative New Zealand. Lissy says it will mean the wharenui can be projected digitally for everyone to enjoy. In addition, an app will be created using augmented reality.
“Our wharenui is a beacon of hope and we would love to see a digital version of it in every prison across Aotearoa,” Lissy says. “Imagine what a difference it would make if we could project our vibrant, joyful wharenui on the outside walls of Mt Eden Corrections Facility.
“Imagine if Corrections staff read this story and said, ‘Yes, this is what we need’.”
Lissy and Rudi approached the Mt Eden facility in 2019 with an idea to teach crochet to the men inside. “We felt so sad about the huge over-representation of Māori in prison and wanted to bring our kaupapa and crochet to incarcerated tane.”
Rudi taught two ten-week sessions in the Mt Eden facility before the impact of COVID-19 brought the classes to an end. “I brought colour, joy and aroha to the classes and the men responded by sharing their stories and memories, especially of their nannies crocheting.
“Crochet is repetitive and therapeutic, and the men were very engaged. Some of the men tried it and said it wasn’t for them but most of them said they couldn’t wait for the next week.
“Feedback showed they enjoyed making things for their children; spending time in a peaceful space; and talking about their lives and backgrounds.”
Harikoa still hangs in visitors' room
As part of the classes, the participants created an artwork called Harikoa. Three years on, it still hangs in the visitors’ room.
Ghissy Lee, then Regional Volunteer Co-ordinator at Mt Eden Corrections Facility, recalls the impact of Rudi’s crochet sessions with the men. “On the surface, it was a course about learning to crochet but it was so much more: the underlying purpose was of whakawhanaungatanga, building relationships and rapport.
“Rudi would korero with the participants to find links between one another through whakapapa.
“Because we’re a remand facility, we often struggle with consistent programme attendance. Attendance depends on the facilitator and the connections they can build with their participants.
“Rudi had a steady and consistent group of a dozen or so participants who would show up for his class every week to contribute and connect.
“Harikoa continues to be the kaitiaki of joy in our domestic visits hall. Although we still can’t facilitate face-to-face visits, the men use this hall for video calling with whānau and friends.”