The newest exhibition opening in the Whakatāne Community Board Gallery this month will bring a dark chapter in our region’s history into sharp focus.

Te Kupenga o Taramainuku is a photographic exhibition from contemporary Māori artist Simone Magner. In 2017, Simone was commissioned by Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa to capture the 152nd commemoration of an historic siege in 1865 by colonial forces at Te Kupenga o Taramainuku Pā, Te Teko. Historically, the pā had been considered the social, political and economic hub of the lower Rangitāiki/Ngāti Awa region – an important meeting place, as well as a centre of agricultural production and trade. This battle directly led to the confiscation of 245,000 acres of Ngāti Awa rohe by the Crown and the beginning of a long and painful journey for the iwi to reclaim what was lost. All Ngāti Awa hapū were affected by this confiscation and the consequences have reverberated across generations.

In 2005, an apology from the New Zealand Government, as part of the Ngāti Awa Treaty Settlement, included setting aside Te Kupenga as an historic site. And so for the first time, in 2017, Ngāti Awa was able to hold its commemoration where only remnants of the pā remain.

Around 2000 people attended the day-long event in Te Teko, which began at dawn with karakia and pōhiri performed by hundreds. The faces of generations of Mataatua iwi have been captured by Simone’s eagle eye as they gathered on this significant day.

“I didn’t set out to tell the story of Te Kupenga o Taramainuku, but I did want to tell the story of that day in 2017,” she explains. “I felt that I captured a collective Ngāti Awatanga. Te Kupenga Taramainuku  commemoration was a public display of Ngāti Awa reclaiming significant history. A lot of our community don’t know what happened at Te Kupenga, some people never knew it existed. I hope this exhibition will have educational value for our wider community.” 

Simone’s work was partially intended to document Ngāti Awa support for the establishment of a National Commemoration Day for the New Zealand Land Wars on October 28th each year. Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa is fully behind the exhibition as an opportunity to educate local rangatahi and future generations of Ngāti Awa on one of the more controversial passages in their history. Simone’s exhibition is, however, one of extreme relevance to the entire Eastern Bay community, showcasing images of our people and our place, and the events that shaped our environment.

Simone has many years of experience incorporating tikanga Māori and contemporary concepts within her artwork and photography practice. In 2006 she was featured as an emerging Māori artist in the first international indigenous photo exhibition and symposium, Our People, Our Land, Our Images at the CN Gormon Museum, University of California and was one out of 100 NZ Artists selected in for Imago Mundi: Benetton Collection 2016 . This is her first exhibition at Te Kōputu a te whanga a Toi.