Raranga mahi artist Marama Hotere treads a flax strewn path towards a Diploma of Art and Creativity (Honours), NZQA level 6, at The Learning Connexion. A harakeke artist, she is looking to bring the traditional practice of flax weaving into the more contemporary areas which TLC offers students the freedom to explore.
Brought up within Te Ao Mārama (a Maori world view), Marama is now starting to redefine her position, her creative art style, and where she is at in the world. Everything she knew and identified with when growing up, was based upon a strong culture of both tradition and protocol.
Marama is now looking to explore alternative ways of thinking and creating. She wants to take traditional cultural practices and fuse them with creative training in order to make sense of the world in which she now lives.
She is mindful, be it professional or personal, that everything she does and experiences is imbued within her work. “My art is a reflection, not necessarily of me, but of what’s around me.”
Tradition and art have always sat side-by-side in Marama’s family and close circle of friends. Her husband (a graphic designer), is related to Ralph Hotere, a well known New Zealand Maori artist, and as a child, she grew up playing sport with the son of another notable New Zealand artist – Darcy Nicolas.
This backdrop of renowned artists, her traditional upbringing within a strong Maori culture, and a personal love of reading and collecting old books based on Polynesian society, fuels and informs Marama’s creative thinking today.
Marama is trained in the traditional art of kete – flax weaving (raranga mahi). It is these customary skills that she learnt from her raranga teacher at her local wānanga that provide the foundation and groundwork for her more explorative, creative work at The Learning Connexion.
Right at the beginning of her weaving practice, Marama remembers being told, quite bluntly, “Dear...most artists CAN’T weave”. However, she quickly proved this person wrong and they recanted several weeks later saying, “Dear, you’ve made a liar out of me. You CAN weave.”
Studying both traditional (flax weaving) and creative thinking at TLC at the same time, however, was continually challenging. Marama found she was often pulled back to stay true to cultural traditional weaving practice, yet there was always an opposite tug from The Learning Connexion urging her to be increasingly more creative.
For a year and a half Marama struggled through this tug-of-war of the traditional versus the creative. One clear example of this battle was in her first non-traditional creative kete.
Marama was informed that this particular kete (on the left above) was ‘good for nothing’ because it had no handles.
There was a clear divide between traditional function (the design and usability of the piece) and creative form (the artistic quality and look of the piece).
Kete (Māori for basket) are used traditionally to store and share heritage and cultural materials and the weaving of them is quite complex. It requires very fine motor skills and a lot of patience. There’s also quite a bit of technique in the preparation of the material.
Raranga mahi starts at the very beginning. Right at the flax plant. Each flax variety has specific uses and characteristics. Unique to New Zealand, harakeke (flax) plant is one of our most ancient plant species. Maori believe that it represents the whānau (family). The rito (shoot) is the child. It is protectively surrounded by the awhi rito (parents). The outside leaves represent the tūpuna (grandparents and ancestors).
Marama has her own harakeke plots and she works with a variety of different types of flaxes – some of these are silky fine, others are thick, beautiful and lush. It can take up to four years for some flax plants to mature again after harvesting, therefore she cuts the flax a particular way in order to allow for more growth and not damage the rest of the plant.
After gathering up all the flax, Marama then sizes it and puts it through the process of hapene. This is where she takes out the excess moisture and softens the flax to make it more pliable. All in all, it is likely she will touch each flax blade at least twenty times before she even begins to construct with it.
To get the flax white before dying it, she simply boils it in water. Dying the flax usually happens in large pots. Marama likes to play with her colours while mixing. If she leaves her flax fresh green she can use these existing tones to add dimensionality to other colours. Working with the lightest colours first, she gradually builds up to darker, more intense tones.
Marama’s kete, range from traditional undyed baskets to more strongly patterned contemporary ones like this one below.
It is Marama’s intent with her studies at the Learning Connexion to take her traditional fibre skills and colour techniques and transfer them into other creative disciplines and media such as ceramics and 3D, in particular. “I’m collecting all these skills and want to piece them all together.”
Marama is working towards completing her Honours Programme (Level 6) at The Learning Connexion and will be moving onto the Advanced Programme (Level 7) shortly after that.
It is her belief that there is an ultimate code underpinning all cultural arts. This is what she is currently trying to figure out – how to decode the patterns, the symbols, the tattoos and the hieroglyphs while exploring other creative media for cultural expression.
She’s looking to talk to traditional carvers, tattoo artists and weavers and gather all of this information together. Ultimately, she will transfer all of this data and bring it together within a single piece or, a series of works.
Marama encourages people to follow her move across from the traditional to the creative and to explore the thinking behind the art making. To understand the why’s behind the doing, and to find their balance, perhaps somewhere in the middle of the traditional and the creative, wherever that sweet spot is for them.
Bring us your traditional art making skills and find out how The Learning Connexion can expand your creative thinking and develop your potential. To find out more about our NZQA approved programmes call us on 0800 278 769 or request a prospectus.