National | Art

Inspired by kapa haka to become a weaving practitioner - Nathan Wharton

Nathan Wharton of Ngāpuhi and Te Arawa is a celebrated weaving practitioner, who credits his artistry to his ancestry, his upbringing and his love for kapa haka.

He recently completed his Bachelor's degree in Māori arts at North Tec and opened his first solo exhibition at the Megan Dickinson Gallery in Whangārei.

Wharton’s love for weaving was borne out of performing for his whānau haka team Tūhourangi Ngāti Wāhiao.

“That Māori performing arts background is probably the reason I became a weaver. I managed to catch the end of a generation that taught to be able to take the stage at any one time, you must create or make your own kakahu,” he says.

“I acknowledge the kapa haka world as the thing that really made me hone in on weaving as a practice …  for affording me the opportunity to develop into the artist or practitioner that I am today.”

Wharton has opened his first solo exhibition called Hono, which is about connection and what it means to be disconnected and reconnected.

“I think the common word of connection or to connect is the main theme that runs through this show and of course not just a show but as a practitioner in my everyday walk in life, whether it be at home on the marae or here within mainstream spaces.”

A tradition being revitalised

One of Wharton’s pieces on display at his solo exhibition is a takapou wharanui (burial mat), a traditional practice he has been revitalising in his home community of Utakura in the Hokianga.

“If you've been to a Māori hui mate (funeral), you would have seen a whāriki or tāmata (mat) of this style. It is the burial mat that is reserved for tūpāpaku (deceased).”

“In saying that, this is not a new thing and over the past 30 or so years, we've seen examples of hapū and iwi using a basket or mat for burial purposes.”

Passing on his knowledge

As a weaver practitioner, Wharton does not add on a price tag for his time or materials in creating a takapou wharanui but instead accepts koha (donations) and encourages whānau to learn how to do it themselves.

“As a practising artist, weaving practitioner, it is my responsibility, not just to give the product but to give the knowledge associated with, so I Iove when whānau ask, 'can you come to our marae and teach us?'.”

Wharton now aspires to move his art into other genres.

“As an individual artist, I've got some big dreams where I want to go in my arts. I'd like to weave kakahu that cloak buildings so, perhaps one day we'll get to a point where I might be cloaking the Māori Television building in a cloak of some sorts.”

Wharton's exhibition at the Megan Dickinson Gallery in Whangārei will finish on March 15.