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Noticing: An essay on Neke Moa's Ngā tirohanga whānui a Parehuia

I watch her unlock the huge glass sliding door, pull on it, lock
it, give it a tug, unlock it, shake and pull, lock it, feel around the
edges for something, unlock it then give it a massive jerk. The
door opens – there’s a knack. Neke Moa, artist-in-residence
September to December 2023, has arrived to Parehuia.

It’s the middle of the night. Steep hill ahead; trees cast
shadows into darkness fighting against inefficient street
lights. This eerily quiet street with the occasional speeding
car is not what I thought the big city would be.

We unload our wheelie suitcases and start down the rough
concrete footpath speckled with shell pieces – dubious.
Coming to the wooden path, the corrugated non-slip mat
trips the too small wheels of our bags sending juddering
echoes into the night. We wait for neighborhood watch to
introduce themselves to us – intruders in their community.
They never do. Instead, we are greeted by the imposing
silhouette of McCahon House.

Neke Moa collects materials from her environment, develops
relationships with them, and creates discussion pieces. Being
one of Neke’s recent finds, I often find myself immersed in
interesting discussions. Many take place within the scene of
exhibition openings, where the hustle of artist life happens.
Madly combing through the crowd trying to find the treasured
missing piece for their next project, people with ideas and little
funding connect. I am often cast aside, politely floating from
group to group until inevitably someone will approach with
the conversation starter “and what do you do?”Quite the full
stop for any artist sidekick with imposter syndrome.

But today the answer is “I notice things.” Here is a list of things
I have noticed while in residence with the resident.

I have noticed that long before this show, before me,
before many of us now gazing at this collection of works,
Neke Moa had already nestled herself within a coven
of amazing adornment artists. I see that this is where
Ms Moa developed her commitment to the materials she
chooses. That is the unwritten expectation of this magical
group – they love their materials; they manipulate them
into the most pleasurable visual experiences and they
acknowledge the individual space each holds in their
collective world. All this happens during a shared
beach walk and a cup of tea – a reunion quickly
thrown together because Neke is in town.

The gift of time in Tāmaki Makaurau allows for studio visits
with artists who reflect upon their Indigenousness. They
always have. Their changing experiences may have tweaked
their pieces over the years, but the stories told in volumes have
stayed true to the kaupapa. We are Indigenous, we live here,
and today we made this in response to whatever we like. This
group of tired war horses, peaceful in retirement, are reeling
at the government change. Placards will need to be crafted.
Right place and right time conversations need to be
had with this city based population. Its DNA is reflective
of many more waka than the marae based village
Neke chooses to live in most of the time.

Each morning over coffee Neke listens patiently while I natter
on about an Atua story I have discovered from the area we
are staying. She has started to take a few minutes to draw
these characters and this style of mark making has begun
to move from paper to the shells, paewai and nikau in the
studio. I have noticed we own a set of chisels now. I wonder if
a clothing line might be coming next and I hope the sizing will
start at XL.

As institutions are asked to justify their spending and focus
on things of ‘value’, Neke Moa, her mentors, peers and teina
are forced to discuss the possible threat of belonging to an
endangered community. I sit watching them reminisce about
building New Zealand’s contemporary jewellery community –
a purposefully planned construct to gently represent the craft
internationally. I have noticed that they are as competitive
as any All Black team and have the trophies to prove it. In
house lecture series, sharing workshops and mentoring
programmes will need to be stepped up. There is a plan to
plan a succession plan. It is hard for these gold medalists to
see the training institutions closed.

Like goldfish growing to the size of their pond, I have
noticed that some of Neke’s work matches the space of
the magnificent McCahon House studio. Sizes that might
challenge the traditional adornment wearer, but would look
awesome in a public space. I worry about squashing all
these things, including Neke, into our whare and her very
small studio when the residency ends.

The door once so huge and heavy, after 3 months slid closed,
locking quietly, gently, casting Neke Moa, artist, off on a
return journey to the ‘real world’ – and what do I do? I hop
in the car with a bag full of new noticings. I am excited to
see how this ride will end.

Neke Moa, Rangatira, 2023, photograph by Sam Hartnett

Neke Moa, Hineahuone, 2023

Neke Moa, Tokerau, 2023

Neke Moa at Parehuia, still from video by Emily Parr, courtesy of McCahon House

Neke Moa at Parehuia, still from video by Emily Parr, courtesy of McCahon House