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Huakina exhibition opens new pathways for prisoners

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Huakina - to open Exhibition at Expressions Whirinaki Gallery, Facilitated by The Learning Connexion: School of Creativity and Art


In te reo Māori Huakina means “to open”. For prisoners in Aotearoa New Zealand, art is often a means of opening up new forms of expression – and ultimately pathways back to a normal life.

An innovative new exhibition curated by The Learning Connexion School of Creativity and Art in conjunction with Expressions Whirinaki will explore that idea. Featuring art by prisoner and guest artists, Huakina - to open is a rare opportunity to view work made by prisoner artists from around New Zealand alongside well-known guest artists including John Walsh, Wi Taepa, Nigel Brown, Shane Hansen, Dale Copeland, Sean Duffell, Flox and more.

“The process of creating or viewing art can be a healing process, or it can create bridges of understanding between wide gaps that may exist between cultures, individuals, or throughout vast histories of time,” says contemporary Māori artist Darcy Nicholas.

All artists received an identical wooden box to respond to, each exploring the limits of their own creative potential. The resulting works are expressive, original and enchanting. They shine a light on prison art in New Zealand.

Darcy Nicholas says his own experience with prisoners has shown him that art is a hugely important way to open up new paths of expression.

“Every individual has something important to say to the world. We like to remember the things we love, or the experiences that play an important part in our lives. Some of our experiences result in tragedy and others express the simple joy of life. We all experience both but in the end the journey of creating art can give you the strength, knowledge, and a unique experience that can enable you to continue to enjoy life.”

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The exhibition features around 120 works, in a huge variety of styles and mediums. While many feature flora, fauna and Māori motifs, some take the concept of openings quite literally - one box has a superbly sculptured wooden fist bursting through the top, while the other hand grasps for freedom from the side. The image is powerful and visceral.

Seeing the artwork of prisoners is striking, because it reminds us of the freedom we take for granted – but also the walls we often create for ourselves, says Darcy.

“I learned over the years that my greatest obstacle was myself and the walls I built around me. We are all prisoners to some extent and my art and the life I have lived has given me the freedom to think on a global scale and to create, and to value my own life and respect the life of all those people in New Zealand and around the world who have been part of my life.”

Students from 14 prisons participated and had 12 weeks to create a piece of artwork especially for this exhibition. *Tommy (not his real name) from Christchurch Men's Prison says of his experience, “I was quite honoured to have been asked to be a part of it. I’ve never really had the chance to be involved in anything like this. I hope it does some good for some people."


Sharon Hall, Restricted Programmes Coordinator from The Learning Connexion says: “It’s a great opportunity for students to extend their creative practice by responding to a brief.” 

The exhibition artworks will be available to purchase via a Trade Me auction, with proceeds going to Victim Support

“Creativity programmes in prisons help to build essential life skills, expand forms of communication and help provide pathways to successful rehabilitation,” says Sharon.

“We find through achieving an NZQA qualification in Creativity, our Corrections students gain many valuable skills for their future, including creative techniques, problem-solving, commitment, focus and confidence.”

While the formal education is hugely beneficial, the main thrust of TLC’s Creativity programme is to build life skills and open new forms of communication. “Art opens doors, and helps the prisoners gain confidence and realise their potential”.

Huakina – to open
21 September – 1 December 2019
Open every day 9am – 4pm
Expressions Whirinaki, 836 Fergusson Drive, Upper Hutt


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