“I feel like I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.” Maungarongo Te Kawa. (Photo: Seb Charles)

It’s hard to miss one of Maungarongo Te Kawa’s colourful quilts.

Each bold piece of storytelling breathes life into old, discarded pieces of material. The process, as Maungarongo (or Ron to his friends) says, is done with aroha, purpose and genuine laughter. The quilts themselves carry their own messages, emotions and memories.

A collection of Ron’s whakapapa quilts is now showing at the Seasons gallery in Tāmaki Makaurau until May 18. The collection is part of He Kiri Tuna, a larger group exhibition. Ron also has an exhibition at Te Manawa Museum in Palmerston North, called Te Whare Pora: a sacred space.

We’re sharing the short text below, which is from Hikihiki: Stories that Uplift, Ron’s previous exhibition at the Seasons gallery. Because who doesn’t need uplifting right now? It’s accompanied by images of a few of Ron’s pieces.

‘Welcome Home. We love You.’ Maungarongo Te Kawa, Heavenly Bodies exhibition. (Photo supplied)

About a decade ago, a friend of mine had a stint running a government department. She asked if I would do a workshop with the staff to make a big whakapapa quilt showing bright, happy, open tamariki.

I asked why we were working with the staff and not with tamariki.

Her reply has sustained and inspired my mahi ever since. She said, “The staff are mostly Pākehā, and their whole, daily experience of Māori is that we are broken and hopeless, especially the kids.”

I could have fallen off my chair. How was that possible?

The last time I caught a train, I noticed the tamariki on board had their heads down. A low-energy forcefield of invisibility emanated from them. Don’t see me. Don’t notice me. Don’t assume you know me. They were closed down, falling in line with the expectations of the other passengers.

Quilts from Maungarongo Te Kawa’s Hikihiki show. (Photo: Sam Hartnett)

To show up in life, to be present, loving, unapologetically Māori and happy is a political statement. It pokes its tongue out at the expectations of others.

When I look at our carvings from the old people, I see cheekiness, humour, rhythm, defiance, partying, loudness, matakite, cleverness, love, and abundance. They have pills nowadays to cure us from these things.

I take all my mamae, anger, and disappointment, and I transform that energy to make the most faithful, funny, dynamic, musical, and modern images of us that I can, using the discarded, unwanted fabrics of society.

I was originally going to call this show In Your Face, but I settled on Hikihiki, because of what it means to wrap someone in a blanket of love.

I give thanks for being Māori every day. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.

Te Hikihiki exhibition. (Photo: Sam Hartnett)

Heavenly Bodies exhibition (Photo supplied)

Maungarongo (Ron) Te Kawa of Ngāti Porou is a takatāpui fabric artist, educator, and storyteller. Following a vibrant career in costume design and fashion, he dedicated himself to full-time art-making and teaching. In addition to producing his own whakapapa quilts, he runs sewing workshops, guiding participants to express their creativity and genealogy through fabric.

Ron’s works are held in a wide range of private and public collections, including at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, the Dowse Art Museum, and the University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau. He is currently based at the Te Matatiki Toi Ora Christchurch Arts Centre as an artist in residence.

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