National | Arts

Waka made from hundreds of crystals lands at Toi o Tāmaki

A 10-metre-high waka made of crystals created by artist Reuben Paterson has taken pride of place at the Auckland Art Gallery,

Paterson, of Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Tūhoe and Tūhourangi, says the sculpture, also made of flexi-glass and steel, navigates a spectacular journey from Papatūānuku into the embrace of Ranginui and will cast a galaxy of stars over the pool in front of the gallery.

“As the crystals illuminate the gallery in rainbow refractions, the waka appears to venture skyward, seemingly levitating above the forecourt pool,” says Paterson.

Paterson has named the sculpture Guide Kaiarahi. He says, the inspiration for the sculpture came from the legend of a phantom waka that appeared at Lake Tarawera 11 days before the 1886 Mt Tarawera eruption.

“In the early hours of June 10, 1886, our ancestral mountains Wāhanga, Ruawāhia and Tarawera split apart, spewing forth millions of tonnes of ash and debris," Paterson says.

“By floating this crystal waka above the gallery’s pool, he appears magical – an apparition that floats in the sky while having a narrative linked closely to our own history. He guides us as an escort into unknown or unmapped territories, in much same way as the waka of our very descent and the migrational journeys to Aotearoa.”

Paterson says every figure contained within the waka has a set of crystals as their eyes.

"By setting crystals into the eyes of the figures, it’s given the waka the sight to be able to see, the sight to be able to navigate us and the sight to be able to teach us what we need to learn.”

The sculpture also has a personal resonance for Paterson. His Ngāti Rangithi kaumātua describe their iwi from the Te Arawa waka as Te Heketanga-a-rangi, those who descend from the celestial heavens.

"What makes this so unique is that it is an artwork. Waka are one of the greatest metaphors that Māori can use when we talk of whānau or iwi or being a people travelling and traversing things together."

The sculpture has been commissioned by the Auckland Art Gallery and Edmiston Trust. Paterson says he started coming up with the design six years ago but refined it in the past two years.

Gallery director Kirsten Lacy says, “The work has been made during a time of Covid-19 lockdown and there have been 15 incredible craftspeople working on it on the other side of the ocean completely devoted to the creation of this work and bringing it home to rest here at the front of Toi o Tamaki.

The waka will feature outside the gallery front door for the next five to seven years.