New billboard explores staying true to tikanga in challenging times

Friday 13 May 2022

Billboard blessing - 11 May 2022 - Small.jpg

When the team at Mahitahi Hauora noticed the big billboard on the side of our Whangārei office was looking old and faded, we wanted to replace it with something special.

Kaikohe artist and Mahitahi Hauora Community Voice Rōpu member Anaru Ruka took up the challenge from Community Voice Rōpu Chair Shirleyanne Brown to create something that would provoke kōrero in these changing times.

"Shirleyanne asked me to create an artwork that would explore how we, as Māori, adapt to stay true to our tikanga,” Anaru says. “We’re in a changing world with COVID and not being able to hongi. Our hongi is sharing the breath of life, but now with COVID it could be sharing the breath of death! So how do we, as Māori, keep sharing the mauri?

“It was hard to think of something at first. I was overthinking it. Then a simple solution hit me: why not just put a mask on them? We’re continuing to share the breath of life by protecting life.”

"I put a moko on the masks to show we can still hold onto our mana in these challenging times," says Anaru. "Our moko speak for us, too. In the old days, people could tell who our tupuna were and where they were from by the patterns of their moko.”

The artwork includes a whakatauki: He toka tūmoana e whati ana ngā ngaru o te tai: The waves of change break on the rock that stands strong. The whakatauki speaks of standing strong in our culture and beliefs despite the challenges we face, like a rock in the ocean that withstands the elements. 

Anaru says the artwork is intended to provoke thought. "People have a lot of profound reactions to it and look at it in different ways. In Māori art, people see what they see in it. It is what it is to you.”

Community Voice Rōpu Chair Shirleyanne Brown said the artwork reflects the resilience of Māori and tikanga in a changing world.

Anaru has been a member of the Community Voice Rōpu since 2021. The Rōpu provides Mahitahi Hauora with independent consumer perspectives, community input, advice and guidance. Since joining, Anaru has provided the group with valuable insights drawn from overcoming many challenges in his life, including homelessness, addiction, mental health issues, and an accident that left him in a wheelchair. These days, after turning his life around, Anaru is a successful business owner and family man who volunteers his time to run youth support programmes. He's also a keen artist.

The new billboard was installed on 10 May and is proudly on display at the Mahitahi Hauora office in Rust Avenue, Whangārei. A blessing attended by members of the Community Voice Rōpu, Anaru’s whānau, kaumatua David Coyne of Pehiaweri Marae, and Mahitahi Hauora staff members, was held to mark its installation.