Like a beating heart, the rhythmic sound of pounding drums and poi reverberate from the centre of Paopao ki tua o rangi (2009), a stunning audio-visual and woven fibre installation created by Aotearoa New Zealand Māori artist Ngahina Hohaia. Hohaia’s artworks draw on inherited skills and knowledge of traditional Māori song, ritual incantations and fibre works, reimagined through a contemporary lens to create large scale contemporary art installations. Raised in a family of artists and political activists, her installations operate at the intersection of Western and Indigenous art praxis, unravelling colonial settler narratives about art, culture and identity, to weave in Māori knowledge, practices and perspectives into the history and artistic canon of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The sounds and symbols in Paopao ki tua o rangi specifically speak to the layered history of Hohaia’s tūrangawaewae, her ancestral homelands at Parihaka. These histories inform the present cultural and political reality of not only Hohaia as an artist, but of the entire community of Parihaka. Nestled at the southern end of Taranaki mountain, on the West Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, Parihaka is today a small Māori community, but between the 1860s and 1890s the settlement was one of the largest and most industrially advanced Māori townships in Aotearoa New Zealand. With extensive farming lands, modern agricultural equipment, grand European style architecture, running water and electricity, and a bank, Parihaka was a site of visionary leadership and prosperity. But more importantly, Parihaka was a site of refuge, a place that welcomed Māori families from all across the country who had been displaced from their homelands during the New Zealand Land Wars. As a sanctuary from the trauma and violence of war, Parihaka was established on principles of peace derived from a combination of customary Māori belief systems and Western biblical teachings, manifesting a uniquely Māori Christian ideology that Ngahina Hohaia refers to as liberation theology.