How memories of her Māori girls boarding school inspire artist Maraea Timutimu

From Te Ahi Kaa , 6:03 pm on 26 August 2018

Tauranga artist and high school teacher Maraea Timutimu uses poi made of bread packets and cameo-style portraits in sculptural work that recalls her formative years at Queen Victoria Māori Girls Boarding School.

Maraea is set to graduate from Whitecliffe next year.

Maraea is set to graduate from Whitecliffe next year. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Māori​ artists talk about how their creative work reflects their identity, culture and history in the series Toi.

For Maraea, life at "Queen Vic" had its ups and downs.

She grew to love kapahaka and formed steadfast friendships there. The down side was the food... or lack thereof.

“I often laugh that I was like hungry for five years… One time I remember the bread had been stolen at night and the next day no-one got any toast. There was a big uproar [with people saying] 'Who took the bread?!'”

Whanau gather at Maraea's house to help with her kete installation.

Whanau gather at Maraea's house to help with her kete installation. Photo: Supplied: Maraea Timutimu

Bread is a theme in Maraea's latest art installation - a narrative of her time at Queen Victoria school.

The work also features large-scale cameo-style portraits and written accounts of student life.

Maraea is now an arts teacher based at Western Heights High School in Rotorua.

She says there are many disparities between today's mainstream classrooms and her memories of boarding school.

"Being in education at Queen Vic and then seeing tauira [students]...they would never have the same education [as boarding school] or being in a space where being Māori is the norm, its part of the school everyday and just is."

Poi installation - Maraea Timutimu

Poi installation - Maraea Timutimu Photo: Maraea Timutimu

Maraea's parents were both school teachers.

Her dad taught at St Stephen's Māori Boys Boarding School and her mum was the principal at the time of St Stephen's closure in 2000 (the school is set to re-open in 2020)

A year later, Queen Vic also closed its gates.

Maraea's family lived on-site for a time while her and her siblings also attended Queen Vic. Her brother attended Te Aute College.

Maraea was already teaching at Western Heights when she was encouraged to apply for a study grant to complete her Masters in Fine Arts.

The grant covers her salary for 32 weeks while she completes her Masters through Auckland's Whitecliffe College Of Arts And Design.

Maraea will add this qualification to her degree in Māori Visual Arts from Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.

Poi made from re-used bread packets.

Poi made from re-used bread packets. Photo: RNZ/Justine Murray

Maraea describes her art work as labour-intensive and she likes to take a collective approach.

Friends and colleagues helped her collected 300 bread packets to make poi for an installation that was part of her mid-course submission.

“I grabbed a group of girls from [Western Heights High School] and wrote them notes to get out of class. We plaited pois for two days... I was trying to hide it from my boss but you know [that] support from my colleagues has been amazing."

Maraea's body of work includes written articles about life as a former student.

She collated the material from her sisters and spent half a day with friends who also shared their stories.

Cameo artwork inspired by the profile of Queen Elizabeth on the fifty cent coin.

Cameo artwork inspired by the profile of Queen Elizabeth on the fifty cent coin. Photo: Maraea Timutimu

Maraea also created large cameo-style portraits of her sisters in the style of the New Zealand 50-cent coin.

“That poi work has been quite a favourite of mine. It was about our culture, kapahaka and then it was about relationships. I was looking at bread and communion, the title of the bread po was Ko te tinana o te karaiti ka whatia nei mou… That’s what we would say when we would give it to the girls”.

In the past ten years, Maraea has been commissioned to create public art works such as the computer keyboards displayed in the foyer of Te Kura Whare in Taneatua.

She also created a large sculpture made of Perspex and aluminium to represent the contributions of Dr Maharaia Winiata. That piece is housed in the foyer of Toi Oho Mai Institute of Technology.

Maraea is studying towards her Master of Fine Arts with Whitecliffe and is currently working towards her graduation exhibition, she plans to rent the space at Queen Victoria.