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IA: Te Ia o Te Awa

27 September - 7 October 2023

Zena Elliott (Te Kahupaake, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa,

Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whaoa, Ngāti Whākaue, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Whanau ā Haraawaka,

Ngāti Awa)

IA: Te Ia o Te Awa features new work by Zena Elliott, a Kirikiriroa-based artist who hails from Te Teko. Zena's mahi combines past, present, and future through materials, methods, and aesthetics. IA is part of a larger body of work by the artist that links the fluidity of rivers with gender and cultural identity.

Though we may shapeshift, our mauri remains strong!

Zena is making a mural to accompany IA at Riverslea Mall while the exhibition is on. Check our What's On page for further information; we hope you can come along and take part!

Thanks to Whakatāne District's Creative Communities Scheme for supporting the exhibition, Creative New Zealand for supporting Zena's research, and Peppers Building Supplies, Cusack Partners, and Zena Elliott for making the mural project possible. 

Please scroll down to read Zena's statement about the exhibition.

Mauri ora!



IA: Te Ia o Te Awa - The Essence of The River is part of an ongoing research project that explores notions of fluidity within the context of the awa. Just as a river's current flows and changes direction, speed and density over time, our identities can also evolve, shift, and adapt as we navigate through different experiences and environments. This exhibition explores the interconnectedness of the concept of Ia as both a pronoun and rhythmic beat of flow and current. "Ia" is a te reo Māori kupu and depending on the context, it can be used as a pronoun for she, he, her, him, it, or a noun for current and flow.

The artworks within this show dive into the depths of fluidity, metaphorically moving, swaying, and shifting in sequential movements of a reoccurrence patterning. The “flow” of the awa is a representation of culture that signifies the intergenerational transmission of values, traditions and mātauranga from generation to generation. The flow is symbolically represented in the form of a taniwha that reflects the enduring aspects of our culture and this can be understood through the curves and bends of the sculpture. "Current" is also articulated through the form of a taniwha and symbolizes the dynamic, evolving nature of our identity and is likened to the current of the awa which is always in motion, where our culture adapts, transforms, and sometimes merges with other cultural currents.

The sculptures radiate interconnectedness through the abstract representation of the "current" and “flow” of a river and signify the different cultural and ancestral streams. Some awa often merge and diverge, the same can be said with culture, identity, gender, and ancestries can intersect and influence each other, illustrating the complex interplay of various cultural identity currents. In essence, the concepts of “flow” and “current” can be seen as a philosophical expression of our diverse culture and identity that emphasizes the dynamic and evolving nature of these concepts, highlighting the importance of continuity, adaptability, merging and diverging.

Nā Zena Elliott


Click on the images above to see them in full.

Hover to see captions.

Artist Bio and Works List

Zena Elliott (Te Kahupaake, Ngāti Rangitihi, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Tahu, Ngāti Whaoa, Ngāti Whākaue, Ngāti Raukawa, Te Whanau ā Haraawaka, Ngāti Awa) is a contemporary Māori artist hailing from Te Teko. An esteemed painter and carver, Zena has exhibited extensively in solo, group, and curated shows since the 1990s. Zena has completed several artistic residencies, and supported others as a lecturer in Māori Visual Arts in recent years. Zena is currently working towards a PhD in Visual Arts at AUT: Auckland Institute of Technology and running The Sleepout Project with Tia Barrett in Kirikiriroa.

Flow (2023)

Current (2023)


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