Ara Art & Design tutor Michael Reed with works from Ko Tāku Kupu Ko Tāu My Word is Yours(photo Shannon Sylvester).
Crossing cultural and linguistic divides is at the heart of Artbox's latest exhibition, opening April 5. These works are a collaboration between students from two of Ara Institute of Canterbury's degree programmes: Māori Language and Indigenous Studies, and Visual Communication Design. The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of Ko Tāku Kupu Ko Tāu / My Word is Yours, which showcases and celebrates the designs.
"This was a bilingual, bicultural project. The aim was to encourage more creative writing in te reo and encourage collaborative work," Art and Design Manager Bruce Russell says.
Humanities Head of Department Hēmi Hoskins welcomed the innovative nature of the project.
"This project provides an opportunity to promote te reo in its unique flavour, its expressive nature, its form and its particular origins," he says.
Te Puna Wānaka te reo Māori students were paired with Art and Design students to discuss the meaning of the Māori texts before generating ideas for how to represent the meaning visually using art and typography.
"Māori is a very pithy and metaphorical language so it was very difficult to fully understand the texts and find imagery to meet the meaning," Russell says.
"Working across cultures is challenging but very rewarding and it also helps generate creativity."
Russell says the project also promoted bicultural understanding.
"For many of the art and design students, this was their first experience where they really tried to understand Māori culture and create an authentic portrayal. "
It was a sentiment echoed by Hoskins.
"The resultant relationships and shared understandings of the staff and students involved have created a partnership between the two groups that can be likened to the lashings of a double hulled canoe, whose prow is now well positioned to navigate the waters that lie ahead."
However, the benefits of the project go far beyond the group of students who worked on it.
"One of the results of the project is that we have a high quality book that showcases the artworks and features Māori and English. Copies will be sent around the country. It is about opening up people's world view of what they can do and what is possible by cross cultural collaboration as well as mixing art with language."
Ara Art and Design tutor Michael Reed, whose projects often cross linguistic and cultural boundaries, says that cross-cultural training was an important element.
"This was a good way of demonstrating to students that our future is more than an imported American culture and that it is possible to cross cultural divides. An Art and Design degree is extremely versatile, it is a skill that can be used anywhere in the world, but to do so, you need to have the confidence to take on multi-cultural and multilingual projects."
While some students were apprehensive about the project, the majority became really committed and some were "awestruck" by the results, Reed says.
Art and Design graduate Kirstie Jones, who is originally from the United Kingdom, participated in the project while she was a student and believes it helped her form a better understanding of New Zealand's heritage.
"I've become more aware of different aspects of Māori culture and more aware of the tight bonds between New Zealand and our heritage," Jones says.
For Jones, the project was her first experience working with a client and she found the experience of working with a foreign language and with someone else's creativity stimulating.
"I enjoyed the experience of designing for another language; it was both challenging and rewarding. I also enjoyed the hands on approach I took to the project. I chose to communicate my given Māori proverb by expressing the handmade design practices of Māori culture by using a combination of tactile handcrafted pieces overlaid with digital typography to emphasise the relationship of the two languages and cultures," she says.
The Ko Tāku Kupu Ko Tāu / My Word is Yours exhibition will be launched on Tuesday 5 April and will run from 6 to 29 April.
The Artbox project is run by student interns from the School of Business. The interns use their entrepreneurial and marketing skills to develop Artbox as a business. Art and Design students will also have the opportunity to be involved in running the spaces, gaining real world experience working and exhibiting in a gallery.
Artbox is open 10am to 3pm, Monday to Friday throughout the year, except public holidays.
Read more: What is Artbox?