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7am down at Waikanae Beach. A hushed morning preceding a warm Spring day. Empty apart from the occasional jogger and the rhythms of the ocean. A man arranges himself next to a structure of driftwood; he has organised for a photographer to come capture the scene. 

Adel Salmanzadeh brings an immense energy to everything he does. 

His latest initiative is Toi Rito – Art for Social Action, an accumulation of Del’s experiences in art, education, and development.

The idea of using art for impact is not unfamiliar for Del. Coming to New Zealand as a refugee in 1989, he is a recognised UNESCO Refugee Integration through Language and Arts Affiliate Artist, having previously used art to explore notions of identity and advocate for marginalised groups. Del sees art as the ideal means to communicate important messages – it is fun, engaging for a range of audiences, and has the effect of sparking curiosity.

Designed to be an inclusive endeavour, Toi Rito is less about hard skills and more about the act of being creative. Del asks, if someone went down to the river, picked up 50 stones and proceeded to arrange those 50 stones in any form, their name for example – would this be art? For him, yes and thus, every single person can be an artist.

Toi Rito is the second chapter following his Prints for Good initiative, borne from using prints to raise funds for victims of the 2019 Mosque terrorist attack. Whilst Prints for Good used the one art medium, this time around Del has opened the floor to both different types of art and collaboration with different sectors of the community. 

Adaptable to different purposes, Del has chosen to align Toi Rito with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), something he came across during his work in the international development sector. These 17 goals spearhead the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the internationally-accepted blueprint to achieve a more peaceful and prosperous world for both people and the planet. 

Such unanimity in the international development and governance world is unprecedented – but these are unprecedented goals. They offer a common purpose for the global community, with relevance for all people at local, national and international levels. The SDGs take on the most pressing challenges of our time, such as climate change, eliminating poverty and good health. 

As the name suggests, these are things the world must achieve by 2030. For something so monumental, they have been slow to capture the imagination of New Zealand. The crucial question then becomes how do we make society aware and knowledgeable about the SDGs, so that they might be better adopted and enacted? How do we connect the extensive knowledge this region holds and mahi already underway to the greater umbrella of the ‘sustainable development goals’?

Del knew he wanted to be part of the solution to these questions. Through Toi Rito, Del is coordinating a series of 17 art workshops for the SDGs, each art workshop being matched to a fitting SDG, which are intended to be a way of communicating the goals practically and creatively to the Gisborne community through various art mediums. 

Taken under the broad wings of fellow social impact gurus Tāiki E, Toi Rito has found itself a home in Te Tairāwhiti, this ‘arty place’ feeling like the right fit for Del’s work. 

The series launched with a driftwood installation at Waikanae beach to raise awareness about SDG14 Life Below Water, which was meticulously arranged by the hands of around 30 people over several hours on a Friday afternoon. Heading down to Waikanae beach now, you wouldn’t find a trace of what existed there before. This is a part of the ethos of Toi Rito – the art itself embodies sustainability and treads softly on the earth.

This week as a part of Tāiki E’s Entrepreneurship week, is a print-making workshop addressing SDG8: decent work for all and economic growth on Wednesday morning, followed by a workshop run by the Riposte Team on Friday around SDG9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure, with upcoming workshops including another beach art installation to draw attention to SDG15, hiwa āhuarangi – climate action.

Of course, one man alone cannot run 17 workshops. Staying true to the nature of Tāiki E, collaboration is at the heart of this initiative. Numerous Gizzy creatives have been brought onboard to lead workshops that showcase their skills, endeavours and businesses. Kirsten from Puawai & Co, led attendees through bouquet making, and mushroom grower Mariska who guided a beeswax wraps session to encourage sustainable consumption habits. One workshop included a trip to Tairāwhiti Environment Centre for the Tāiki E pataka to get a makeover for SDG2 Zero Hunger.

The support of Cain, Renay, the Tāiki E residents, and daughter and fellow artist Carmel have been instrumental in giving life to Del’s ideas. As if Toi Rito were a child, the village has gathered around to raise it.

The SDG Art Workshop Series will culminate in a public SDG Art exhibition to not only advocate for the our community’s adoption of the SDGs, but also to demonstrate various ways that ‘art’ can be conceived. 

Bigger workshops are on Del’s agenda for 2021, as well as plans for a nation-wide release of 17-limited edition prints that speak to the 17 SDGS, paired with 17 poems and songs.

The SDGs are undeniably big, big goals; unless ways are identified to make the goals attainable, they are rendered merely as aspirations. Far from being the government’s job, the SDGs crucially depend on the everyday, bite-sized contributions of local communities, giving substance to the notion of ‘think global, act local’. Toi Rito might just be one piece of the puzzle, but Del believes that it is these little things, when pieced together, that will pave the way to a sustainable future. 

Words by Lauren Turner.

Life Below Water images X Tom Teutenberg.

Head to the Tāiki e Facebook page for information on upcoming workshops.

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