This new work by Stevei Houkāmau (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, Rangitāne) draws on traditions of hei (lei, neck garlands) and her on-going exploration of representing whakapapa as uku kākano.
Houkāmau’s individual kākano (seeds) are handmade from uku (clay) and hand-carved, with patterns drawn from Aotearoa and further through the Pacific tracing ancestral routes back to Hawaiki. The unique shape and size of the individual seeds respond to the genealogy line to atua and tūpuna. When joined as a chain, they create a representation of the unbroken whakapapa links that stretch back and stay ever connected.
Here, the uku kākano form a series of garlands evocative of hei / lei – an adornment ubiquitous in the Pacific but not widely seen within te ao Māori today.
Traditionally, hei were made from feathers, plant fibres, seeds or flowers and may adorn poupou, showing the mana of the carved figure. Within Aotearoa, Pacific lei are more easily found, often draped around photographs of whānau members passed, as a way to show aroha and connection.
Through these hei, Houkāmau recognises the disconnections to whenua of both Māori and Pacific whānau through displacement and migration, and the reinterpretation of traditions that happen when these disconnections occur.
Situated at Objectspace, Houkāmau’s beaded hei also acknowledge the neighbourhood of Grey Lynn and the loss of community for Māori and Pacific whānau through decades of gentrification and the changing local urban landscape.
She places the hei at the entrance to the gallery – scaled to adorn the space as a lament for traditions lost, and representative of the endurance of whakapapa.
Stevei Houkāmau is a fulltime uku artist who lives and works within the Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington Region. She has worked with clay since 2011, preferencing uku because of its ability to convey our links to the geological and spiritual past – uniting tāngata, tūpuna, and whenua, while speaking to the critical connection tangata whenua have to place and earth.
Stevei has exhibited and has works in collections both nationally and internationally. Stevie has represented Aotearoa at FESTPAC, Guahan and indigenous Art Gatherings, and completed residencies in the United States of America, Australia and here in Aotearoa.