Pukekohe art project aims to change story of town's racist history

Source: 1News

A new art project in Pukekohe will see murals painted around the town, aiming to change the narrative of its history of racism toward Māori, while also educating the community.

It's being led by Pukekohe High School art teacher Catherine Tamihere, who says there is still quite a lot of mamae (pain) in the town as a result of racial segregation and mistreatment of Māori over the years.

She sees the project as a positive response to the history, and hopes it will be a source of hope and healing not only for Māori, but for the entire community.

Artist Jimmy James Kouratoras is painting the first mural in the series, which is located just behind the town square. It’s just over 30 metres long, and four metres high.

He’s been there for the past couple of weeks painting away with the help of some of Pukekohe High School’s art students, and says responses from the public have so far been positive.

"I feel like it's creating a waharoa, a gateway for healthy conversation," Kouratoras said.

"Some kaumātua have been coming past and commenting on the wall and talking about the history of Pukekohe. We had one lovely kuia come through and share the story of Pukekohe and how the town was established.

"They all experienced that racism and displacement. But she shared some lovely stories, particularly about the Kiingitanga and the history of how the town’s marae came to be."

Kouratoras began the mural with the intention of weaving Māori history throughout, particularly that of the local area with ties to Waikato iwi.

"I started off with Princess Te Puea, a strong female figure, and Tāwhiao, of Ngāti Mahuta, as the strong male figure to anchor the artwork in history.

"Following that I’ve used a giant wheke in there which references the book Te Wheke and all its teachings about te ao Māori. It’s something that's strongly influenced my art work."

He's also included imagery that references te reo, whakapapa and unity.

"It's just about changing the narrative of the past, acknowledging it, but changing the narrative for the youth and bringing a new colour palette to their story."

Tamihere is hoping the murals will become an educational resource for the community.

"I think the way forward is to educate everyone. With New Zealand Histories coming into the curriculum next year, this is like the perfect time to be able to set something up like this so that it becomes sort of like a walking tour of our local history, of the history of Aotearoa, right on our doorstep."

No Māori allowed

Tamihere says she became aware of the town’s history while on a practicum at Pukekohe High School, where she came across a book titled No Māori Allowed by Robert E Bartholomew. It explores the town's history of racism, racial segregation and mistreatment of Māori from the 1920s, up until the 1960s.

During that time, barbers in Pukekohe refused to cut their hair and Māori weren't allowed in the local pools until clean out day. The local school also had separate toilets for Māori, and if they went into the wrong toilet, the children were punished.

"You can still feel it in our town and whilst our town is this amazing little place on the outskirts of South Auckland, we can do better, we can do better for our tamariki," Tamihere said.

Kouratoras plans to finish the mural within the next week, weather dependent.