In the studio: Te Kahuwhero Alexander-Tu’inukuafe

With pen to paper, Aotearoa (New Zealand) artist Te Kahuwhero Alexander-Tu’inukuafe creates strong yet intricate lines, shapes, and connectors that form both an individual and familial narrative inspired by te ao tuturu (the natural world). Here, the artist describes her creative practice and the unique environment where she produces her work.

“I am a Maori and Tongan artist from Te Tai Tokerau, Aotearoa (Northland, New Zealand). I am from the iwi (tribe) of Ngapuhi and the hapu (sub-tribes) of Ngai Tawake ki te tuawhenua, Ngati Rehia and Te Whiu. My art practice is underpinned by my connection to te ao tuturu (the natural world), in particular to the whenua (land), moana (sea) and rangi (sky).

Te Kahuwhero Alexander-Tu’inukuafe, Drawing Study 1, 2022, pen on paper, 10 × 16cm. Courtesy the artist

I have recently returned to Te Tai Tokerau to reconnect with my whanau (family), hapu and iwi. Observing te taiao (the environment) is an important part of my process. Throughout the day, I often go on walks around our rural property or visit the maunga (mountains), awa (rivers), and moana of my iwi. Each weekend, my whanau and I journey somewhere different in Te Tai Tokerau. I document my observations of te taiao through photography, and then use the photographs and my memories to inform my artwork. Although I have used other mediums in the past, I mainly work with pens and pencils on paper. I really enjoy creating work in series and will create drawing after drawing where there is a slight difference to the previous one.

Te Kahuwhero Alexander-Tu’inukuafe at home in Te Tai Tokerau. Courtesy the artist

At the moment, I don’t have my own studio space; instead, I create artwork in response to the happenings in our family home. My art materials, drawing studies, and finished works can be found in small alcoves and spaces around the house. I have recently come to the realisation that this domestic environment and the tribal area of Ngapuhi is “my studio”. It also gives me a lot of joy to know that I am creating work, which is inspired by the places where my tupuna (ancestors) have lived and worked in the past.

My major body of work last year was a series of section drawings through the maunga of Ngapuhi. I also continued working on a series of woven drawings about the land. Two of these were recently displayed in group exhibitions at the East Gippsland Art Gallery in Bairnsdale and Brunswick Street Gallery in Melbourne, Victoria. The works were drawn using metallic pens on black paper; in contrast, this year, I have decided to use a lighter colour palette of colours inspired by sunsets at home. I have already started to do some drawing studies using a range of blues, pinks and purples, and I look forward to spending more time exploring Te Tai Tokerau and learning more about my hapu and iwi.”

– Te Kahuwhero Alexander-Tu’inukuafe, February 2022

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