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If you’ve braved it into the shops post-lockdown you will have noticed that lots of place have had to reconfigure their spaces to fit with the physical distancing requirements of the day.

For many, this initially involved a table across the entrance, for some it’s been the opportunistic ‘window-servery’, and for Dave Whitfield and Amy Campbell of Frank & Albie’s, this involved putting their entire set up, kitchen and all on wheels, and moving it around in some kind of heavy-duty Tetris game until it was fit for purpose.

The other thing they did was to commission Hiria Philip Barbara to do a painting for the fresh food outlet, which has become the centrepiece and the backdrop for the newly-reconfigured space.

Hiria’s sister Livvy is a part of the Frank & Albie’s crew (as was her brother before her) and Hiria had already painted a smaller piece for the sandwich and salad joint before lock down featuring bees; nature’s own essential workers.

In conceptualising this larger piece Hiria says it was a continuation of that theme of celebrating nature; as the Frank & Albie’s crew were the ones who would be around it the most she wanted to create something that would make them happy. So she worked hard to incorporate people’s favourite foliage as well as the real-life indoor plants that already live in the space, such as the Rubber Plant and Peace Lily.

Adding in a Tī Kōuka at her mum Glenis’s request, a tangle of Jasmine for sister Livvy, and a Monarch chrysalis in reference to the life they’d been watching unfold on the swan plants at home during lock down, Hiria’s painting provides this lovely sense of indoor-outdoor flow.

While Hiria has spent periods of her life in both artistic and education spaces, as a Kohanga Reo teacher, a Nanny and coaching Waka Ama, she has found herself moving more and more into her art space since returning home to Tūranga Gisborne.

In the past Hiria’s focus has been on photography, and last year her final piece for Toihoukura took the shape of a soundscape, but right now she is returning to her earliest days, when she remembers helping her Aunty Huhana (contemporary Māori artist and head of Massey University’s Whiti o Rehua School of Art, Huhana Smith) prep her canvases, mix her colours and paint the edges of her canvases for her.

Hiria has started thinking about what she’d like to paint next. Keep a look out for her work around town, and her special way of signing it. If you spot a small bee somewhere in an artwork – you may be looking at a piece of Hiria’s work.

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