“Lifting up my art to another level”

5 December 2012

Prisoner artwork Paraki Puhanga (not his real name) is studying art at Northland Region Corrections Facility. At the recent exhibition of prison art in Kerikeri, he sold eight of the 12 works he had on display. He is completing a diploma through The Learning Connexion and is looking to follow up with a degree. Sandra Harvey, art tutor and distance learning facilitator at Northland Region Corrections Facility, asked Paraki the following questions. These are his responses.

Q. How long have you been making art and what do you like most about it?

A: I started my journey into art seriously early in 2008 while I was on remand here at Ngawha prison. Because I was looking at a long prison sentence, this then became my motivation to pursue art. At first, it was the “how” question. How do you draw like that? How do you get it looking like that? And then I realised a very important learning curve: just give it a go. Draw – and from drawing, I learned technique, scale, composition, medium and many other skills associated with art.

What I like about art is the making of something from the beginning: seeing it grow, making it evolve, and then watching it pop off the paper.

Prisoner artworkQ. Why are you studying art? What do you hope to achieve?

A: I have a few reasons for studying art. Firstly, I’m enjoying my study of art. I’m learning new skills, developing my style and discovering other techniques that I would never have seen or thought about.

My next reason is that I dropped out of school at 15 years of age and a week later, I started working fulltime scrub-cutting in the bush. I have no education qualifications and now I am doing my diploma in art and creativity through The Learning Connexion.

Doing art gives me a routine and teaches me lots of things like time management, patience, completing projects, organising and breathing!

Q. Where do your ideas come from? Are there any artists who inspire you?

A: Sometimes the ideas come from within me. I may have seen an image or I envision the image. I do a sketch and from there, I start work on it. Other times, ideas come in dreams. I wake up and write them in my ideas book. Sometimes I see pictures in others’ cells and I may take bits of that, or see interesting things in magazines or books or on TV.

There are many artists who inspire me: for instance, Theresa Reihana, Ralph Hotere, Colin McCahon, Tame Iti, master carvers John Taiapa and Wallace Hetaraka, Picasso and Tanya Jade Thompson (aka Misery).

Prisoner artwork

Q. Was the Kerikeri exhibition your first? What did you learn by taking part in it?

A: As well as the Kerikeri exhibition, I’ve exhibited at the Mairangi Arts Centre in Auckland and in Kaikohe. I’ve learned to handle the pressure and stress of getting work ready for exhibitions – things like time management, quality control, giving my word when I said I would do it. I’ve also lifted up my art to another level, accepting and listening to criticism and positive feedback. By displaying my work, I’m getting exposure to a wider group of people. Exhibitions are excellent morale boosters or ego smashers.

Q. Looking ahead, are you likely to use your art-making skills when you’re released?

A: Yes. I will have completed my diploma in 2014 and that will give me a good foundation for when I get out.

I’d like to set up a business on our marae that can create jobs for people in rural areas, targeting tourists by bringing them back to grassroots culture. I am going to help lift our rural marae and all those around us to whakakotahitanga (unify). Back home, it’s life. That’s where I want to be with my art – turning my art and my knowledge of Maori living together back in the sticks into a business venture.


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