Pinks, creams, reds, browns, blacks even blues, in many hues. Just some of the colours of the whenua presented as powder for painting, and rock for drawing in a beautiful display by the Kauae Raro Research Collective in Te Papa exhibition, Te Mata Tūroa o Papa This Natural World.
The collective was founded over a birthday roadie. Three Whakatāne friends set off in 2019 around their rohe of Te Waiariki (from Bay of Plenty to Taupō) checking out the sites of Māori rock drawings and taking in the colourful wonders of Maunga Kākaramea aka Rainbow Mountain, near Rotorua. They fell in love with the whenua - both its richness and its cultural legacy.
Throughout Covid lockdowns the Kauae Raro Research Collective grew, dedicated to researching earth pigments as a painting practice, a component of ceremony, as a form of personal adornment and for rongoā, or healing.
A few years later, Lanae Cable, Jordan Davey Emms and Sarah Hudson are still based along the Ōhinemataroa river in Whakatāne but their community has grown to connect with artists throughout Aotearoa and across the moana. They’ve created a fascinating online resource sharing knowledge and connecting to others, and they share their research trips and love of the whenua on Instagram. They happily dub themselves ‘the dirt people’.
Kauae Raro’s main research is with their feet - walking the land. It’s a practice focused on the retention and promotion of mātauranga Māori around a resource they consider a taonga. One to which as tangata whenua, they feel they belong. In this way their work is a political as well as cultural act - taking the land back, handful by handful, meeting locked gates along the way.
“I’ve really appreciated it as a way of gaining ‘art sovereignty,” says Hudson, “not having to go to Bunnings or an art shop to get a plastic acrylic paint!”
Mark Amery spoke to Lanae Cable and Sarah Hudson Kauae Raro in Whakatāne on Culture 101, with the studio help of Radio 1XX.
Te Mata Tūroa o Papa This Natural World is on at Te Papa in Pōneke Wellington until mid 2024.