Sarah Ackerley

Jon Jeet’s He Toki Maitai gets permanent home

A monumental-size steel toki has a new home in New Brighton, Christchurch.

SCAPE Public Art commissioned artist Jon Jeet to create the piece in 2022. It was on temporary display at Te Matatiki Toi Ora The Arts Centre.

The artwork, He Toki Maitai 2022, now has a permanent home next to the Roy Stokes Community Hall, Seaview Road. Jeet lives in North New Brighton, just a short walk away.

The toki is located inside the boundary of the old New Brighton School. For Jeet, “it’s a full circle” since he had his art studio at the old school for several years after the Canterbury earthquakes. “It takes me back to building relations with Renew New Brighton and the many, many artists who were there.”

The Executive Director of SCAPE Public Art, Richard Aindow says it’s exciting to bring “Jon’s wonderful work” to New Brighton. “SCAPE’s vision is to bring permanent artworks to life in communities across the whole city. It’s immensely satisfying to install a piece where the artist lives and works.”

A team effort

SCAPE Public Art projects rely on goodwill and in-kind support from Christchurch businesses, along with private donations and community grants. Jon Jeet particularly wants to thank Leigh Mason, Director of Coombes Sheet Metal and Fabrication, for assistance in the initial construction. Naylor Love, Grant MacKinnon of DGM Group, Lewis Bradford, Christchurch NZ, the Christchurch City Council Public Art Advisory Group, and a number of individual supporters, helped make it possible to move the artwork and install it permanently in New Brighton.

What is this artwork about?

A toki is usually translated as ‘adze’ in English. Traditionally, Māori shaped and used toki made from pounamu or stone for a number of purposes, from gardening to rakau whakairo (wood carving). They could also be carried ceremonially as a symbol of power and authority.

In 2022, Jamie Hanton, then Managing Curator at SCAPE Public Art, approached Jon Jeet to create an artwork in response to the theme Sweat Equity, where different artists explored the effect of capital and labour on bodies.

Jeet is of Ngāti Maniapoto and Fijian Indian heritage. As a young man he spent a great deal of time working with his hands and labouring manually, coming from a family where money was tight and “higher education and critical thinking were luxuries.”

The use of a digging tool references Jeet’s Indian ancestors who were brought to Fiji as indentured labourers. In that sense, too, the artwork’s permanent location is particularly fitting because the old school, which was closed after the quakes, is in the process of being re-developed as housing. “The earthquakes happened and I wanted to make a work that talked about we’re ploughing into the soil again.”

As well as its traditional function, the pounamu toki form is worn as adornment. Jeet has established a career as an outstanding sculptor and carver, having made thousands of toki; he continues to engage in a form of manual labour.

He Toki Maitai can be translated as beautiful toki or foreign/steel toki. Both translations speak to the different traditions of craft that have travelled to Ōtautahi across oceans along with their chosen materials, or else have adapted to new resources and technologies.