Arohanoa Mathews – Ngā Toi Māori Navigator


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Creative Bay of Plenty | Te Waka Auaha Toi has announced the new appointment of Arohanoa Mathews in the Ngā Toi Māori Navigator role.

Arohanoa (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui) is a multifaceted artist whose creative journey has been deeply rooted in familial influence and mentorship spanning generations.

She brings invaluable insight into the balance between tradition and innovation within indigenous arts, and passionate advocacy for the preservation, innovation, and revitalisation of Māori arts, firmly believing in the empowerment of Māori creatives as the cornerstone of a thriving arts community.

Creative Bay of Plenty asked Arohanoa some pātai about her background and experience, and what she is looking forward to…

Can you tell us about your background as an artist and how your experiences have shaped your understanding of the Māori arts landscape?

“My journey as an artist has been cultivated through generations of whānau influence and mentorship where I was often immersed in creative activities such as painting, kapahaka and weaving. Being surrounded by creative whānau instilled in me an appreciation for the transformative power of art.

I strongly believe that by recognising the importance of cultural preservation, innovation, and revitalisation within the Ma_ori arts community, and investing in empowering indigenous artists, we will thrive.

“I was formally trained at Art and Design School in Auckland which led me to working at the Auckland Art Gallery, where I had the privilege of immersing myself in the cultural landscape of New Zealand’s art and history. Here, I developed my skills as a budding artist with group and solo exhibitions showcased at local galleries but also as an educator, with 25 years’ experience as an art teacher.

“Additionally, my connections with contemporary Māori artists provided invaluable insights and better understanding of tradition and innovation within the indigenous arts, further enriching my own creative perspective and practice.

“Through these experiences, I have come to view and execute art as a means of self-expression which has also shaped for me a better understanding of the Māori arts landscape. I strongly believe that by recognising the importance of cultural preservation, innovation, and revitalisation within the Māori arts community, and investing in empowering indigenous artists, we will thrive.”

What excites you most about taking on the role of Ngā Toi Māori Navigator at Creative Bay of Plenty?

“What excites me most is the opportunity to foster cultural empowerment and advocacy for Māori artists through connection and understanding of our culture, mātauranga and practices.

“I am energised by the prospect of working collaboratively with Māori artists, community leaders, and stakeholders to amplify voices that have historically been marginalised and to create spaces where cultural identity and heritage can flourish.”

How do you see the interaction and relationship between art and culture?

“Art and culture are deeply intertwined and serve as a cornerstone of Māori identity, storytelling, and spiritual expression. It goes beyond aesthetics but rather is a means of communication, connection, celebration, and cultural preservation.

“It is most integral to acknowledge that sovereignty over cultural knowledge and practice is retained and respected whether it be traditional or contemporary art.”

What are your aspirations for your role within Creative Bay of Plenty?

“Serving in this role means being a catalyst for positive change, advocating for the recognition and celebration of Māori art and culture on both local and global stages. To do this effectively, I aim to confront cultural injustices, challenge dominant narratives, and assert Māori sovereignty and self-determination within key spaces.

“Additionally, I am passionate about leveraging the arts as a tool for social and economic development within the Māori community, promoting education, entrepreneurship, and sustainable practices that contribute to long-term prosperity and well-being.”

What’s your favourite way to unwind and recharge creatively outside of work?

“I am privileged to be residing on our whenua in Matapihi, Tauranga and often am recharged and inspired to paint the rich and beautiful taiao (environment) that surrounds my whānau and I, daily. Hauora by way of time together, in particular keeping our health and fitness as a priority, is also important to my whānau and I.”

What’s the most interesting or unusual piece of art you’ve ever created, and what inspired it?

“My most interesting and memorable pieces of art I’ve created were for my fourth year of art school class critique assessment. I organised my assessment to be held on Tuhua (Mayor Island) here in the Bay of Plenty, with my Auckland class and tutors in tow.

“My paintings were inspired by my whakapapa to Tuhua and the taiao (environment) with a focus on translucent layers and textures to emulate the surrounding manu, ika, kohatu and obsidian (rocks).

“The series of paintings that I presented for my critique have been the foundation of my methodology, painting processes and developed self-identity.”


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