'National treasure' brings whakapapa quilts to MAHARA


Fabric artist and educator, Maungarongo (Ron) Te Kawa - described at his exhibition opening as a “national treasure” - has returned to MAHARA with a selection of his whakapapa quilts along with the work of women he has inspired through his workshops.

His Star Relations exhibition of whakapapa quilts and Te Aio o Te Atiawa, Here-Turi-Kōkā, opened at Waikanae’s MAHARA iti on 18 July and will be on display until 9 September as MAHARA’s celebration of Matariki.

Opening the exhibition, highly-respected quilting artist Katherine Morrison described Ron Te Kawa’s work as “stunning, contemporary Maori art” and Ron himself as “a national treasure”.

Ron, you and your work take my breath away,” she said. “It is visually rich but also imbued with the culture, knowledge and story-telling of the tangata whenua o Aotearoa.”

Ron Te Kawa has exhibited quilts as part of MAHARA Matariki exhibitions in the past, but this is his first solo exhibition at the Gallery.

Acknowledging the contribution to the exhibition made by past workshops participants, Katherine Morrison talked about the importance of his teaching.

Your classes teaching people to make their own whakapapa quilts are so good,” she said.

As human beings, knowing where and who we come from reassures us of our place in the world and gives us a sense of self.”

In 2019, Ron Te Kawa was named Adult Community and Education Aotearoa Maori Educator of the Year.

Ron Te Kawa’s tribal affiliation is Ngati Porou. In an interview with the NZ Herald, he described his quilts as a metaphor for love, safety and security.

They don’t go on beds, they are wall hangings,” he said. “I just want to wrap my people in love, hugs and stories.

I want them to be the middle of the story. I also want Maori to be able to see themselves.”

Katherine Morrison says it has been wonderful watching Ron Te Kawa’s quilts earn a national reputation and latterly attract international interest in the form of scheduled exhibitions in Norway.

Te Aio o Te Atiawa, Here-Turi-Kōkā features three whakapapa quilts and bunting made by women who participated in Ron Te Kawa workshops. Two of the quilt-makers whakapapa to Whakarongotai Marae in Waikanae.

Photo: Ron Te Kawa at MAHARA iti with his whakapapa quilts.