From humble beginnings to Aotearoa’s Premier Iwi Arts Exhibition

By October 5, 2017Festival 2018

Toi Ngāpuhi has come of age. Aotearoa’s premier Iwi arts exhibition was nurtured from its infancy, by a group of dedicated and passionate individuals who were inspired by a vision to share high-quality Ngāpuhi art to the world.

Rhonda Halliday, exhibition curator and Ngāpuhi sculptor, shapes an outline of the exhibition’s growth from its humble beginnings to the stature and recognition that it has attained today.

Members of the Tai Tokerau Māori Arts Collective 

The very first exhibition, a small and intimate event, was hosted in the conference room of Te Rūnanga-Ā-Iwi O Ngāpuhi in 2004. Renowned Ngāpuhi artist Allen Wihongi organised this exhibition of Korowai Tawhito (traditional and older cloaks) and other modern and contemporary korowai. Each korowai was beautifully made and had its own unique and rich narrative of the artist and the korowai.

Over the years, Toi Ngāpuhi has grown to form a unique and special identity, emerging with its own whakapapa, standing strong and proud as a taonga, a treasure for Ngāpuhi.

With the exhibition gaining recognition and popularity, Allen approached Colleen Waata-Urlich in 2008 and asked her if she would curate the next Toi Ngāpuhi exhibition in the Northland College gymnasium. The exhibition has been held there since.

In 2012 we hosted Northern Queensland Aboriginal artists at Tauwhare Marae, and invited them to exhibit at the Toi Ngāpuhi exhibition.  The collaborative works were stunning and the feedback was extremely positive and uplifting. The 2012 exhibition was also significant as the Auckland Museum loaned us Hongi Hika’s bust, a greenstone mere reputed to have belonged to Hongi, a papahou or treasure box and a silver cup from Queen Victoria gifted to Tamati Waka Nene. Allen also created an amazing triptych painting of Hongi Hika. 

Artist:  Will Ngakuru

In 2014 Te Tai Tokerau hosted the 7th International Indigenous arts gathering of 120 artists from around the Pacific Rim at Kohewhata marae in Kaikohe.  This included our Queensland Aboriginal whānau, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, a Celtic Giant and many of our own very talented Ngāpuhi and Māori artists from around Aotearoa.

For the Toi Ngāpuhi exhibition in 2016, Colleen wanted to acknowledge our Wahine Toa. For this event Maureen Lander was our special guest artist, whose artwork was based on her research of Rongo Hariata Heke. Rongo was Hongi Hika’s daughter and Hone Heke’s wife. To accompany this strong work, Dr Angela Middleton also gave a kōrero taken from her research on Hariata from her book ‘Pewhairangi: Bay of Islands Missions and Maori 1814 to 1845’.

Now, if you think back to where this exhibition began, where it has evolved to, how amazing and beautiful it is, how it has grown from humble beginnings to where we are today with this awesome legacy, Rhonda says, you gain an understanding that it’s all about connecting Ngāpuhi and other Māori and Iwi artists; once you get them all together, something magical happens.”

Māori French, by Priscilla Cowie

It is evident, when Rhonda shares the vibrant history of Toi Ngāpuhi that many individuals and artists have contributed to its richness, colour and texture.

Although the success and recognition of Toi Ngāpuhi as a world-class exhibition has been a collective effort, the commitment and leadership of former exhibition curators and artists, the late Colleen Waata-Ulrich and Manos Nathan is still strongly felt. Rhonda says “as well as being such beautiful people, Colleen and Manos ensured that the ethos, culture and quality of artwork on display were exemplary and that the best of Ngāpuhi was represented and shared”.

Hei Tiki, by Gail Edmonds

When asked about the world class reputation of Toi Ngāpuhi, Rhonda replies “the works have always been of the highest calibre, it is a requirement and we are well aware that our mahi needs to be ‘up there’.  Well known, mid-career and emerging artists have been and are still invited to exhibit so the quality has remained consistent, with many of the established artists endorsing new and emerging artists coming through. This has increased the quantity of artworks presented and also the number of participants in the exhibition.”

Looking ahead to next year’s exhibition, Rhonda is excited at having more  beautiful and high-quality art pieces that articulate the artists’ interpretation of the exhibition theme ‘ko au te wai, ko te wai ko au – I am the water, and the water is me’. They will be made from diverse mediums encompassing both the traditional and contemporary such as clay (uku), paint, print, glass, bone, silver, harakeke, pounamu and stone and mixed media.

Toi Ngāpuhi 2018 will be held in the level two lounge at Toll Stadium. Rhonda describes a prepared “ready to go” space which lends itself easily to artistic display. The energies of Tai Tokerau Maori Arts Collective, who are the team that sets up the exhibition, can, from “get go” be completely focussed on the curating role. This dedicated group are also among the exhibiting artists and their presence at Toi Ngāpuhi opens up a wonderful opportunity for interaction and korero with them about their art work.

Tā Moko is regarded as a living art form and Rhonda is excited to have several Tā Moko artists sharing their skill and artistry on Saturday 27 January 2018.  

Tā Moko Artist, Anikaaro Harawira-Havili

As a cornerstone and popular event of Ngāpuhi Festival, Rhonda said, “it is important to acknowledge our sponsors. Without their support this fantastic example of growth and success would not have been possible.”

“We’d like to acknowledge Creative New Zealand and Chapman Tripp as principal sponsors of Toi Ngāpuhi 2018. Our thanks also extends to the James Henare Research Centre who continue to support the exhibition, this year as an associate sponsor.”

Rhonda says that being part of the growth and evolution of Toi Ngāpuhi has been a very enriching journey. She, along with the curating team is immensely proud and looks forward to walking the Toi Ngāpuhi journey with thousands of people next year in Whangārei.


Toi Ngāpuhi Māori Arts Exhibition


Thursday 25 – Saturday 27 January 2018

Level 2, Toll Stadium, WHANGAREI