Entering a new job at the beginning of a nationwide lockdown is something Keri-Mei Zagrobelna can now add to her CV. The Learning Connexion’s new mentor – who is also an accomplished contemporary jeweller – has started at an extraordinary time, but is finding lots of positives.
“From a teaching perspective, it is very different, but I’ve found that with the technology now available that I am still able to deliver direct feedback, real time communication, video tutorials and communicate with my students almost immediately as if we were in a classroom environment,” says Keri-Mei.
The Wellington-based artist says The Learning Connexion (TLC) is the ideal environment for a transition to online learning.
“TLC has been teaching distance delivery for a while now, so I am lucky that the system is already set up. I also feel that in some ways, I am able to deliver more effectively to my students as I can tailor the tuition and information specifically for their needs without too many external distractions.”
Keri-Mei says she is hoping to help students find their own unique voice through art, just as she did.
“I spent a while in my youth travelling throughout New Zealand and dabbling in art and craft, but I avoided taking it seriously due to a lack of confidence and courage. It wasn’t until my mother passed away that I had the epiphany. I had to go to art school and make it happen – life was too short to have regrets.”
Along with other study, she completed a Diploma of Art & Creativity (Level 5) at The Learning Connexion in 2009.
Keri-Mei works out of her studio making and exploring object/jewellery art as a means of understanding cultural uniqueness and diversity. “I predominantly work with metal-based materials and stone, but I have been exploring other materials and means of visual language.”
Her whakapapa is to Te Ati-Awa and Whanau-a-Apanui and she is also of Polish and Pākeha descent. Much of her work is underpinned with Māori philosophy and cultural narrative. “If people make a cultural connection to Māori Tikanga through my work, then I’ve achieved in building a connection. If they just enjoy the work for the craftsmanship and aesthetics, then that is great, too.”
She also uses European techniques and a range of mixed materials. “In this way, I feel that I can connect with cultures other than my own, in a visual and technical sense drawing them into my work.”
Keri-Mei’s work is gaining international recognition – in 2015 she travelled to Slovakia to represent New Zealand in the World Art Games. She was selected by Creative New Zealand to represent New Zealand in the Aotearoa Delegation that travelled to Guam for the Pacific Arts Festival 2016, and in 2018 she travelled to London to exhibit with the Handshake Collective.
As for the future, she has been selected as part of the Aotearoa Delegation for The Pacific Arts Festival 2021 in Hawaii.
Keri-Mai says mentoring her students through their creative journey during lockdown has encouraged her to reflect on her own practice.
“I’ve forced myself to explore things I might not otherwise do such as take my drawing outdoors. The lockdown has also caused me to slow down and just be. Many of my exhibitions have been postponed or cancelled so when I otherwise would be working to tight deadlines I am now able to reflect and place more time into research, process, planning and considerations on where I want to place my time.”
She says the lockdown, while disruptive, has presented her with an opportunity to reassess her creative practice. “It gave me the time to tidy my studio space and take stock on what materials and tools I have available to create with and challenge myself design-wise within these limitations. I believe that great learning can come from overcoming obstacles and challenges and lead to results you might not otherwise consider.”
You can see Keri-Mei’s work at her Instagram
Profile photo credit: Tayi Tibble. Find out more about Keri-Mei here.