The Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art at Northwest Community College (NWCC) recently hosted a group of Māori artists from Aotearoa (New Zealand).
The visitors were fine arts students and instructors from the Toihoukura School of Māori Visual Arts at the Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) in Gisborne, New Zealand. Their six-day visit to Terrace and Prince Rupert is the result of collaboration between both fine arts schools.
The cultural exchange gave students and faculty from both schools the opportunity to share Indigenous knowledge and voice in the quest to strengthen each other’s artistic and cultural practices.
The Freda Diesing School’s 2015 “Arts of the North” exhibition was held while the Māori artists were visiting. In addition to carved pieces by 16 students from the Freda Diesing School, the exhibition featured original artwork by three Māori students and four instructors, including Derek Lardelli, renowned Māori artist and principal instructor at the Toihoukura School.
“There was a focus on Whakaora (ancient art forms revisited), where the pieces reflected the cultural stories and traditions of multiple Indigenous peoples,” said Lardelli. “Although very separated geographically, our cultures share many commonalities.”
More than 150 people gathered at NWCC’s Waap Galts’ap Community House for the exhibition’s opening reception April 24 where the Māori artists performed several kapa haka dances in response to a Nisga’a dance group’s performance.
Second year tā moko (tattoo arts) and relief carving Māori student Grant Iti said he was very happy and grateful to be part of the art show.
“Last year, I started to mature as a skilled artist, but it wasn’t until Dempsey Bob came to our school that I started to get ideas from other places and artists,” said Iti. “Our trip to B.C. was a great way to continue to share our cultures, and draw inspiration from each other as artists. These experiences open our eyes to what’s around in the word.”
The Māori group’s trip included unique cultural experiences and many opportunities for students and faculty from both art schools to share and learn from each other. In Prince Rupert, weaver Willie White organized a community feast, an interpretive tour of the Museum of Northern B.C., and traditional art workshops at the NWCC Prince Rupert Campus with elders and local artists.
“Being a part of the cultural exchange between the Māori and local First Nations artists was incredible,” said NWCC student Kelli Clifton. “As someone who is very proud of our traditional foods, I was so happy our community was able to share such delicacies with our guests at the feast in Prince Rupert.”
Roughly 200 people attended the feast, including Tsimshian sm’ooygit (chiefs) and dance groups. The Māori artists were also invited to perform kapa haka dances.
“We’re very happy that our fine arts students and faculty had the opportunity to exchange ideas, share their cultures and learn from our Māori guests,” said Deb Stava, Director at the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art. “It was a very meaningful experience for all, and hopefully there will be more to come.”
During the visit, the educators shared ideas on curriculum, discussed challenges and triumphs and planned future opportunities for upcoming artists.
“It is important that these relationships are nurtured and that we can continue to learn and to share,” said Lardelli. “We are looking forward to being able to host a group from the Freda Diesing School on a return visit to New Zealand.”
Toihoukura would like to thank Creative New Zealand, NWCC’s Freda Diesing School, Dempsey Bob, EIT and Toi Maori for supporting this trip.
The Toihoukura School of Māori Visual Arts focuses on various media, including tā moko (tattoo arts), waituhi (painting), uku (clay) and whakairo (multi-media). It offers a certificate in Studio Workshop Studies, a two-year Diploma in Māori Visuial Art, and a Bachelor of Māori Visual Arts. Toihoukura means arts (TOI) – new (HOU) – place of learning (KURA).
About the Freda Diesing School
The Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art opened in 2006 to honour the legacy of Haida artist, traditional carver and teacher Freda Diesing (1925-2002). She achieved great personal success in her work and is equally remembered for her determination to keep traditional Northwest Coast art alive by passing the knowledge to future generations of artists and carvers.