More than 20 artists from Kohuora Auckland South Corrections Facility contributed work to an exhibition at the Community of St Luke in Remuera, Auckland. The proceeds from sales of the works, Kohuora edition prints, and greeting cards went to support the excellent work of Pillars.
The exhibition, held in November 2019, received overwhelmingly positive feedback. The story of Ngā Hau e Whā began earlier in 2019 when we were approached by Colin Rose, the community manager of St Luke Presbyterian Church, to gauge our interest in staging an art exhibition at the Community of St Luke. They had recently held a successful exhibition in collaboration with Pillars. Inspired by this work, we jumped at the opportunity and swung in to action to make the exhibition happen.
Early on we identified the challenges of exhibiting in a church – the lack of walls to display work – so we knew that we needed a freestanding option. Inspired by the iconic Cape Reinga signpost and the concept of Ngā Hau e Whā, a solution was found to use the humble signpost as a way to show art and the sign itself as our canvas.
Kohuora Trades Instructor Charles Overmeyer, who has provided us with extensive help in the past with the artworks that adorn our Whare Manaaki, once again managed to fit in time to help, cutting out more than 100 signs for the artists to work on.
As a group, we decided on a total of 14 signposts: the background to this number grew from the personal research of one artist into the Via Dolorosa (path of sorrows) in Jerusalem: historically, this became the 14 Stations of the Cross and has been used extensively in artworks over the years. This seemed the perfect number of posts to fill the church space and also had an added depth of meaning that related to the religious nature of our exhibition site.
In terms of creating works for this exhibition, artists were given fairly free rein in developing concepts. Some artists submitted concepts for an entire pole while others were happy to produce individual works that would sit together as a group.
Instead of focusing on producing commercial works, we wanted our men to produce concept-first works where they could develop and embrace their creativity. If works sold, that was great but we did not want our artists to get bogged down in second guessing what might sell.
However, as we did want to support the work of Pillars, we produced a number of limited edition prints and greeting cards to fundraise, and the Community of St Luke has offered Kohuora ongoing exhibition space to sell works for the benefit of Pillars.
As you can imagine with more than 100 signs, the type of art created was diverse. There were abstract pieces with thick, voluminous, textured paint; cultural works that looked at creation from a Te Ao Māori perspective; work that discussed recycling and sustainability; humorous works with tongue-in-cheek quotes; and some very personal and moving art that touched on the struggles of prison life.
As many of our artists collaborated on group works, we wanted to share this collaborative spirit with the exhibition visitors. We created a signpost that visitors could draw on so they could become part of the exhibition as well.
The feedback from visitors was extremely positive with comments such as “inspiring and powerful – keep moving forward” and “Fabulous art – very moving – do not stop the creativity”.
As Kohuora has an inclusive approach to the arts, these works came from artists with varying levels of experience. Most Kohuora artists are studying towards a NZQA qualification — either fulltime or part-time, fitting study around their rehabilitation programmes, other study or work commitments.
Overall, it was a great experience for our men. We challenged them to produce the exhibition in a compressed period of time to see what they could accomplish, and also to let them experience the creative energy that comes from the crunch time before an exhibition – like art students experience at tertiary institutions across Aotearoa.
Our men rose to the occasion and exceeded expectation, often challenging themselves by producing more works as new concepts were generated by their artmaking.
Overall, Ngā Hau e Whā was a lot of hard work, but a very positive experience for all involved, so much so that we already have plans for our next exhibition. Keep your eyes open for the next one!
Anthony Cribb is arts educator at Kohuora Auckland South Corrections Facility.
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