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Whakairo installed in Canterbury Prisons

12 May 2010

Eleven whakairo (carved artworks), created by prisoners and focussing on characters from Mäori lore, were installed in Te Ahuhu Whare Wananga in Christchurch Men's Prison last month.

For Canterbury Prisons Programme Manager Monique Reekers, the installation  realises her vision of fostering the wananga process by placing whakairo within that learning environment.

Whakairo installed in Te Ahuhu Whare Wananga, Christchurch Men's PrisonSeven carvers from the Kotuku Unit of Christchurch Men’s Prison worked on the whakairo over nine months. Three attended the blessing, along with family and Corrections staff. The works were formally blessed by kaiwhakamana Te Mairiki Williams.

Moana Tipa, Prison Arts Advisor, Southern Region, Arts Access Aotearoa, also attended the blessing. Of the work, Moana says:

“Different strengths show up in each of the works. The large carved  work, Tamanuitera, is visually compelling and acts as an anchor to the installation. Two works created by the one artist, Rongomatane and Hine Purotu, introduce refreshing, uncluttered, contemporary cuts to parts of the work.

“However, the real strength of these pieces is in the detail of the surface carving.  It reveals yet again the inherent Mäori aesthetic that sits within the creative mind and is no less present among the kaiwhakairo - the carvers - in New Zealand prisons. The classic lines of unaunahi, of rauponga and pakati notches, appear in the works, cleanly carved again and again with accuracy and confidence.

Inborn strengths of whakapapa

“The surface carving of these works are the evidence of taonga tuku iho – inborn strengths of whakapapa that show up in the carved lines of the work of these men, regardless of their circumstances and what they think about themselves or their work. The skill  is there either to utilise so that it grows and is able to make a way for them in their lives; or to continue to be wheeled out when the occasion demands.

Whakairo installed in Te Ahuhu Whare Wananga, Christchurch Men's Prison“The work raises the inevitable ‘what if’ questions. What if NZQA Mäori tertiary arts providers designed distance learning programmes to harness and grow this inherent knowledge base? What if generic Māori art programmes were as essential to Māori entering the rehabilitative sentence planning process as literacy and maths are for all prisoners? 

“What if evidence that prison arts helps develop skills that transfer to other parts of life and living were recognised? Skills such as personal discipline, goal setting, prioritising, problem solving, attention to detail, team work and thinking differently. What if?”

Moana says that tikanga-based programmes continually call for changes in thinking, attitudes and behaviour. And the rehabilitative outcomes of whakairo are increasingly recognised both in prisons and in communities, where carvings made by prisoners are being commissioned.

Moana says that the success of these initiatives offer a way forward. “These initiatives promote lifestyle changes, a receptiveness to the treatment programmes within the sentencing process, and greater readiness to take hold of a life free of crime once released from prison.”

 
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