In a literal sense, Te Ara Minhinnick’s work unearths past narratives as a staged site of a waka burial.
Ngaati Te Ata, the artist’s iwi, is based in Waiuku where three waterways combine: Te Awa o Waikato, Te Manukau, and Te Tai o Rehua. It was once a strategic location for trade, a meeting point, and a hub for water-based activities.
During the 1860s, Minhinnick’s tupuna hid their waka in wetlands or lagoons to preserve them from destruction or confiscation by colonial invaders. The act of unearthing a waka is an act of reclaiming heritage and whakapapa.
Minhinnick’s work blurs reality. This particular waka is not and never was an ancestral canoe. It carries no ancient lineage or whakapapa. But the fibreglass canoe used does have personal meaning as it belonged to the artist’s father, who has worked for decades revitalising their iwi relationship with waka, including waka safety and navigation, culminating most recently in ‘akona mate wai,’ which loosely translates as ‘learning through the medium of water.’ This effort is revitalising iwi cultural practices and reconnecting the people with their ancestral waterways.
On the final day of SCAPE Season 2023, people will be able to participate in unearthing the canoe, enabling them to enact part of the revitalisation process.
“In this collective endeavour, the waka becomes both a physical and metaphorical vessel, carrying the narratives and wisdom of the past while inviting others to unearth their own stories and contribute to its ongoing journey,” she says.