Birds mark anniversary of children’s art and environment project


Almost 100 birds of many shapes and colours have nested in Mahara Gallery, each one the creation of tamariki and rangatahi from two Otaki Kura.

Ninety-three pupils, ranging in age from five to 18, from Hato Petera Kaniera (St Peter Chanel) and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rito have turned their minds and hands to sculpting.

Nga Manu, Birds marks the 10th anniversary of the Mahara-Nga Manu Children’s Art and Environment Project, a collaboration between Mahara and Nga Manu Nature Reserve, supported by the Philipp Family Foundation.

Philipp Family Foundation trustee Irene Mackle, speaking at the exhibition opening ceremony, described the current year’s project as “possibly the best yet”.

The birds are absolutely beautiful,” she said. “It’s truly inspirational.”

It is the second time the two Otaki kura have taken part in the programme.

Seven years ago their subject was Wai Ora, Water Life, expressed in the form of paintings and poems in te reo as well as English.

It’s wonderful to be working with them again,” says Gallery Director, Janet Bayly.

Moving into the world of three-dimensional construction has introduced a fresh creative challenge that has enabled us to bring some new thinking to the project.

We wanted to review and refresh some of our established ways of implementing the project to ensure it was delivering as well as it could to diverse tauira (pupils) in Kāpiti schools.

The project gained deeper significance and value after being delayed by Covid 19 and a seven-week lock-down.

It was further enhanced by working with the Kura who brought their strong wairua (spirituality) and connection to Te Taiao (the environment) to everything that we shared.”

Artists Michelle Walton and Harriet Bright guided the children through forming their birds out of tightly wrapped, taped and painted balls of paper.

The birds each gained their own unique character in ways that were deeply satisfying to their creators.

The project begins with a half a day spent at Nga Manu Nature Reserve followed by half a day at Mahara Gallery.

Janet Bayly says that in the past the project has been an indoor experience during mid-winter. But for the first time, it began in late summer so that tauira could benefit from time in the ngahere (bush).

It was a real joy to experience the world of Tane up close, listen to nga manu singing, examine their widely different nests and hear how Maori travelled through this special lowland forest hundreds of years before colonisation.”

The children’s work is also published in a new, locally-produced, Mahara book which contains photographs of every child’s sculpture, photographs of their creative process and their written responses in poetry and prose. The book is designed by Amanda Smart with photos by Ryan McCauley. Video maker Dean Hapeta recorded the poets reading their work.

Philipp Family Foundation founding trustee, Robin Philipp, describes the project in a foreword to the book as “innovative and fascinating, combining as it does the relationship of nature and art with experience of different environmental themes”.

The theme, Nga Manu, Birds, for this year’s project is indeed very close to our own hearts,” he says.

We set the PFF up in 2006 to support research, education, programme development and services for the health and well-being of New Zealanders.”

The exhibition will be open at the Gallery until 17 July with four free art workshops for tamariki offered in the first week of the school holidays

Photo: Tamariki and rangitahi of Otaki’s Hato Petera Kaniera (St Peter Chanel) and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rito Kura with their birds in Mahara Gallery.