'Written in the stars': Te Tairāwhiti festival to focus on Māori, Pasifika relationship

12:13 pm on 29 July 2021

Gisborne is welcoming another year of Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival bringing together more than 200 artists and performers to celebrate the rich history and stories of the East Coast.

Auckland Theatre Company production The Haka Party Incident.

Auckland Theatre Company production The Haka Party Incident. Photo: Supplied

The festival chief executive and artistic director Tama Waipara, who first launched the festival in 2019, said the Gisborne region from Tūranganui-a-Kiwa to Ruatōria was immersed with artistry, talent and storytelling.

"The festival is one way to provide a platform, of creating an energy of activity and a focus around the artist, the art form, the stories, the narratives of our place and the people who bring those to life.

"It's about whakapapa, when we know our whakapapa and are centred in that sense of identity and place then it's very easy to welcome others and embrace and manaaki them," Waipara said.

In 2020 the pandemic rocked the arts industry, bringing arts performances and festivals to their knees with the loss of funding.

But Waipara said they pushed forward and managed to bring arts and performance to the East Coast despite the changes.

"Last year, where as a nation, as a world, confronted with this global pandemic, we didn't know we would have a festival.

"When we got to October itself we were a nine-day festival, we had been quite mindful and purposeful in safety," he said.

Tama Waipara

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival artistic director Tama Waipara. Photo: Supplied

Waipara said the unexpected twists and turns of the pandemic had instead brought the community and whānau closer and helped the festival evolve.

At the centre of Te Tairāwhiti festival is the relationship between Māori and Pasifika artists and practitioners.

The festival utilised its platform to explore and acknowledge the historic connection between the two communities, Waipara said.

"The relationship between Māori and Pasifika particularly the whakapapa that exists between us that is thousands of years old ... that is quite literally written in the stars that's something that also I hope we continue to remind ourselves about and strengthen.

"We're coming into a space where New Zealand history is so important to us, the arts can provide a place where that can be a really rich and impactful experience."

This year the festival is packed with Māori and indigenous talent and creativity such as the Te Ara I Whiti light path, Atamira Dance Company's new work Te Wheke, Troy Kingi, Anna Coddington and Auckland Theatre Company production The Haka Party Incident.

Waipara said the festival reflected a sense of connection with the community.

"Our kaupapa is really clear - we're of the place and its people, that we are arts led.

"It's the energy of the art form that drives the purpose of what we do and that we're a platform for connection-creating that space where perspectives can be connected."

For Waipara, this festival is special and carries a lot of value because of how it represents a woven relationship between the arts industry, heritage and the people.

"Our place is a source of creative abundance since mai rāno, going way back that has always been true."

He hopes that those who attend the festival will be enlightened by the diversity of works on offer, the narratives being shared and the artists themselves.

"Having a place to tell stories that are formed of place is about reinstalling our narratives into the fabric of the landscape"

"I hope in coming towards the arts and the artists, and creative spaces that people gain a greater perspective of who we are in Te Tairāwhiti and why that matters in our storytelling."

The 2021 Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival will run from 8 to 17 October.

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