Creative eye never far from main goal

Living art on skin fascinates artist

Roimata Mihinui Kāhu ki Rotorua





Marae toilet cleaner, bottle washer, waitress and sewing factory machinist. Those are just some of the jobs accomplished creative and pioneer ta moko artist Henriata Nicholas tackled on the path to achieving her ultimate goal. “I knew from an early age that I wanted to create, make or do something in the visual arts for a career, I just didn’t know what ‘it’ was or how to achieve ‘it’.” The uri of Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Turumakina, Ngāti Unu, and Ngāti Kahu was brought up to engage at their marae. “Our whānau role at Paratehoata marae was to whakarite ngā wharepaku. We (siblings and cousins) were taught always carry our own ‘pinnies’ in our bags to help out when we visited any marae, it was to fulfill our duty to our tīpuna matua role within our hapū where and when we could. I spent most of my life around Tapiti, Ohinemutu, Te Mahau and Te Kopua marae.” Born and educated in Rotorua, Henriata learned raranga sitting with her mother, Nan, at the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute where she was in an intake of weavers taught by the late Emily Schuster. “That time spent with my mother and the weavers, was like a foundation course of study in cultural art. The artists exemplified everything I wanted to possess – a love for the kaupapa, design, materials, construction, and final product. Each one created with aroha and attention to detail.” That was also where Henriata got a close-up look at carving. “Spending time at the institute also opened my eyes to whakairo – watching and listening to how the boys carve out 3D effigies with intricate patterns from a huge hunks of wood. “I loved the smell of paru and enjoyed seeing visitors from around the world engage with our Māori culture through the arts.” Most of Henriata’s skills were honed on the job. She attended a one year commercial design course at Waiariki Technical Institute. “I funded myself and worked to subsidise the cost of the certificate. That year enabled me to diversify my ideas around how cultural arts could be utilised across and within contemporary realms such as industrial and commercial graphic design and printed media. I switched from an interest in fashion to design across the board. “From there I worked for five years as a graphic artist for a commercial clothing printer in Rotorua understanding all the processes from hand cut stencils graduating to computer graphic sublimation prints. I learnt how to digitise patterns on computer and manipulate them. This meant I could broaden my design skills to include logo and book design specialising in Māori graphics. “It was then I really wanted to transpose my design skills onto skin. I had seen my brother and some of his whakairo friends reviving the art of ta moko during the 80s. It was amazing to see them create living art on skin. “I was drawn to the art form of marking skin and in 1995, I moved to Tāmaki to apprentice under my brother, who at the time was one of a few artists who would train wāhine.” To make ends meet, Henriata got a day job with INL print media first as a hand grapic artist in the market