TOI RITO – ART FOR SOCIAL ACTION

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.

Respect – Just A Little Bit

A cultural magpie, Te Tairawhiti Arts festival director Tama Waipara has an eye for picking performances. His curation RESPECT! brings together four dynamic wahine to pay tribute to the late Aretha Franklin through song as part of the Te Tairawhiti Arts festival running through October. The first of its kind, the multi-layered festival will bring together creatives from across New Zealand showcasing diverse forms of art.

A timely choice with the recent passing of Franklin herself in 2018, RESPECT! promises to be a strong performance from strong women. After the act’s warm reception at the Auckland Arts festival, the group now turns to Gisborne – this time with the addition of Jackie Clarke and Ria Hall. This was a no-brainer selection for Tama with Jackie being an ex-Gisborne girl herself, and Ria Hall, an artist who fuses together Māori and English lyrics with an urban edge. Jackie and Ria join previous RESPECT! performers Annie Crummer, New Zealand pop artist and songwriter and soul vocalist Bella Kalolo.

Jackie Clarke is no stranger to the stage, and no stranger to New Zealand audiences. A long-time entertainer, singer and comedian, we’re lucky Jackie “gave up house cleaning when she discovered people would pay to hear her sing”. Starting out in the Wellington music scene in the 80’s, she’s sung with country combo The Darlings, quartet The Lady Killers, and Dave Dobbyn.  She’s judged TV ONE’s talent show Showcase and NZ Idol, and presented documentaries Wise Women, Song and Twins. She’s been a third of the kitsch kiwiana group When The Cat’s Been Spayed, which even boasts its own Country Calendar special. She’s hosted large-scale events like Christmas in the Park, the NBR Stadium Spectacular and Sky City Starlight Symphony and has had numerous theatre performances including Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamboat and Little Shop of Horrors. These are but a few examples plucked from the long list that is Jackie’s repertoire – she’s a woman of extraordinary skill.

However, in her 35+ years in the entertainment industry, the one thing that has persisted for Jackie is the kick she gets performing with other women. She loves being immersed in the resonation of harmonies and communal female energy, which RESPECT! is perfect for. Jackie enlightens me that Aretha Franklin’s music is intrinsically designed for group performances, where an assemblage of backing vocals and lead parts get to star side by side. It’s music for women, not woman.

An extraordinary vocalist is the least Jackie could say about Aretha Franklin. She sees Franklin’s music as bold and unapologetic, as is the way she presented herself to the world as a performing frontwoman. The “queen of soul’ was a distinguished role model particularly for women of colour, a musical colossus of the 60s who wanted to tell everyone about the self-assured black woman showing her power and her worth. “A declaration from a strong, confident woman”, Respect became an anthem for the Women’s’ Movement and civil rights.

So what does R-E-S-P-E-C-T mean to Jackie? Discussing the song’s relevance over 50 years later, the message is more relevant now than ever before given that women are still calling for respect when it comes to gender roles and material and economic inequality. When the late Aretha Franklin was asked why Respect was so successful, she explained “everyone wants to be respected.” Jackie too acknowledges that respect can be brought to all relationships and a space needs to be made for those of all genders.

As both an artist and a person, Jackie treasures her individuality, reminding me of the strength in ‘you are the only person who can do you’. As well as a personal asset, this is something she has had to apply to her experience in a tribute performance. She respects that no one will ever be able to sing Respect like Franklin herself and there is no merit trying to be someone you’re not. What RESPECT! does is capture the spirit of Aretha, and use her as inspiration to enhance their own performance.

Jackie also recognizes her own curiosity, and attributes where she is now to an openness to opportunity. She tells me she’s always had the optimism to dive into things, and figure out ways to make them work. And she challenges the folk of Gizzy to do the same – to expand their horizons and explore and engage with the talent that will set Gisborne alight over most of October. With film, theatre, music, dance, visual arts, and whanau events, there’s something for every cultural observer. Jackie notes that in her day, the thought of an arts festival in Gisborne “was light years away”, but this now shows that Gisborne is ready to make itself known as a place of creativity. She hopes that the interest stimulated in Gisborne as a cultural hub will have a sustained effect, and benefit not just the artists, but the whole community.

Accessibility to the arts is a key focus for festival director Tama. Thanks to substantial support from Creative New Zealand, the Ministry of Education, Gisborne District Council and principal sponsor the Eastland Community Trust (ECT), ticket prices are ‘unashamedly accessible’ for ‘world-class’ calibre, in addition to many free events. Jackie is much anticipating her return to the Gisborne stage and we are looking forward to seeing RESPECT! (just a little bit!) perform at the War Memorial Theatre Gisborne on Friday 18th October and Saturday 19th October.

Tickets are available at www.tetairawhitiartsfestival.nz

Story by Lauren Turner.

Lofty Mountians

Whāia te iti Kahurangi, ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei’ 

‘Strive to succeed, and should you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain’,”

Of the many kōrero tied to Titirangi, this Whakataukī was chosen to be the guiding sentiment of Whāia Titirangi – a restoration operation unfurling on one of Gisborne’s most loved sites.

The pūrākau tells of Tawhito, descended from Taiau and Tamahinengaro, who lived on Titirangi maunga. He enchanted the beautiful Te Aoputaputa of Te Whakatohea, who was overcome by the desire to be with her love. She decided to leave Opotiki, but her father was worried about the long and arduous journey ahead of her. He gave her a mantra for when she felt like she couldn’t go on – ‘Whāia te iti Kahurangi, ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei’. This sentiment is used today “to encourage young people to strive for excellence in all their pursuits”, and be relentless until they achieve them, says Whāia Titirangi project manager Ranell Nikora.

When urgent actioned was needed to address the unruly pest-plant growth on the maunga, Whāia Titirangi was the answer. Whāia Titirangi is a strategic plan committed to the comprehensive and continuous management of Titirangi, that integrates both the Gisborne District Council and Ngāti Oneone. 

Two young women have contributed to a mountain of changes through Whāia Titirangi. The programme is spearheaded by Jordan Tibble and Mihikura Te Pairi, who have been elected as the operational cadets. The cadet programme was born out of the desire to build capacity for kaitiakitanga, to give young people the skills to be the future guardians of the whenua. Energetic, passionate and not afraid of hard work, these two wahine fit the bill. Guided by the knowledge of senior staff and the Biosecurity team, a large part of Mihi and Jordan’s work involves weed management, but they also find time to lead group planting sessions and manage the Whāia Titirangi social media. 

It is hard hard mahi, often involving exhausting physical work and long hours, but Jordan and Mihi are proud to do it for their whenua and their iwi. The Whakataukī, shortened to ‘lofty mountains’ comes in handy on hard days, as it reminds them to keep going. For such active cadets, they find the hardest part of their work to be the hours spent indoors in the office.

Ranell is adamant that the stance for the cadet programme is not ‘what can we get out of our workers’, but ‘what can we do for them’, a perspective which bolsters their holistic development. She has always been supportive of the cadets’ other interests and pursuits and insists that investing in their well-being leads to happier, healthier, more fulfilled people. Jordan and Mihi explain that from an employee perspective, they also feel looked after. With a strong emphasis on the cadets’ professional development, the cadets have received vocational training such as drivers licencing, first aid and chemical handling.

After delivering a season of planting sessions, often for large audiences, they have found themselves more confident speakers and have grown socially, appreciative of the new relationships gained. The cadets also undergo a thorough cultural education, with regular wananga covering topics such as the Titirangi Maunga korero, whakapapa, tikanga and kawa. This understanding is integral to the role of kaitiaki and nurturing the spiritual connection to the maunga. 

Community education and passing on Māoritanga is a key component of public planting days. Jordan and Mihi have been praised for their role as advocates for celebrating Māori knowledge and perspectives, and sharing the unique story of the land. Many new feet have been introduced to Titirangi soil; there have been regular public planting days and korero about the maunga flora and fauna for volunteers, council, learning institutions and schools. 

It is easy to grasp the impression that Jordan and Mihi have left on their people, with tamariki including them as characters in their stories at school. For Ranell, putting Jordan and Mihi in visible positions of leadership is key in challenging the typical ideal of ‘success’, and showing the young people of Gisborne that people who look, speak, act and think like them can be leaders too. 

Titirangi has undergone a drastic transformation since the Whāia Titrirangi team began their work in October last year (2018). The threat of weeds has dwindled, and the roadside and main amenity areas look like they’ve been given a bit of TLC. It is estimated that under the programme, 5500 new natives will be planted on Titirangi this season. Truly built from the work of many different hands, the native trees used for plantings days are the fruits of labour of The Women’s Native Tree Project. Since Whāia Titirangi’s inception, The Project has generously donated upwards of 450 trees and provided a nursery space to foster new seeds sourced from Titirangi. 

With the maunga’s new look, Whāia Titirangi is noted to be “the most successful and cohesive programme in maintaining the reserve” and being of such unique structure, it has already caught attention from afar as a model of iwi-council partnership. 

The continuation of funding would see a weed-free, pest-free, ecologically enhanced Titirangi. Hopefully, the replenishment of forest will welcome the return of more native birds and reptiles, and we could even expect community fruit and vegetable crops to appear. 

Ranell knows the cadets won’t be here forever, and they might not need to be – Whāia Titirangi has been responsible for passing on a healthy legacy of kaitiakitanga, aiming to inspire the current and future generations beyond that to be the new ‘cadets’ of the maunga.  Ranell wants to see the operation expand, taking on more cadets as kaitiaki with Titirangi as their training ground– who can then spread their skills around the East Cape region where our biodiversity needs it most. Thanks to the work of Ranell, Jordan, Mihi, and the Whāia Titirangi team, Titirangi has been a site of growth – not of just plants, but people and passion as well.

Story by Lauren Turner.
Photographs by Tom Teutenberg.

In Tribute to the Tribute Band

Artwork & words by Lauren Turner

An influx of leather and lace hit Gisborne over the weekend. Or should I say a Landslide? Venturing here for the second time, the quintet of Andrea Clarke, Lee Cooper, Taine Ngatai, Gareth Scott and Garin Keane played on Friday and Saturday night to a sold-out crowd at The Dome Bar and Cinema.

The Dome’s velvet-clad cinema room was the perfect venue for an evening of magic melodies and fond nostalgia. An audience of both young and old stood alongside each other, captivated by an assortment of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks classics such as ‘Little Lies’, ‘Rhiannon’ and ‘Edge of Seventeen’. There was barely a single stagnant body in the room when Landslide unleashed their encore of ‘The Chain’. Seasoned vocals were bolstered by playful instrumental performances – Gareth Scott’s dynamic drum solo in ‘Tusk’ being a longstanding “crowd favourite” according to Clarke, and the glock of the cowbell gave ‘Gold Dust Woman’ a psychedelic edge.

An accidental tribute band, Landslide begun in 2012 after increasing requests for songs by Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks from Clarke and husband Lee Cooper’s cover band at the time (Retro Vibe). The people were heard – Clarke and Lee put together a band that exclusively played these. “I started looking for more material and found myself falling totally in love with the songs, especially with Stevie [Nick’s] insightful and poetic style of writing” Clarke says. A full-time performer, Clarke has a generous portfolio in musical performance. For her, Fleetwood Mac are a natural fit, allowing her to draw on her background in rock, country and blues. The genre-ambiguity of Fleetwood Mac also makes it more gratifying for the band to perform; the Landslide set list displaying the transformation of music trends over the 70’s & 80’s. In true Fleetwood Mac style, the group has had different members over their 7 years. Clarke and Cooper are the veterans but their group is spiked by energetic new blood and impressive heads of hair. “We have always strived to find suitable players to keep the band fresh and especially love to bring in young, talented musicians as well as seasoned professionals to the mix”.

With her spirited locks and honeyed voice, it’s lucky she looks and sounds like Stevie Nicks, but Clarke insists she’s just performing as herself. There are no personas, no playing pretend in this band. Just a group of musicians, transparently playing certain songs as best they can. Their songs aren’t supposed to be note-for-note replicas either. As long as the essence of the song is captured and the recognisable parts are all there, the band members have the creative freedom to impart a bit of their own style into the performance. Part of being a tribute band is going the extra mile to create a sense of occasion. Landslide’s stage decoration, violet lighting, the heavy aroma of burning incense, their bohemian costuming right down to the black gloves adorning Clarke’s hands – all these individual touches are all part of taking their audience away. It can be tough being a tribute band for one of the most loved groups of all time. Clarke admits that funnily the most complimentary thing to hear sometimes is that people didn’t hate the show, because fans can be so fiercely loyal to the originals.

So what is it that makes Fleetwood Mac so popular even today? Not only are they iconic singalongs found on any road trip playlist or karaoke line-up, but Clarke thinks their relatability and sentimental value makes them timeless. “These songs have literally been the soundtrack to a lot of people’s lives and are deeply intertwined with memories and experiences that have been significant to them”. It is music shared by old acquaintances of the original songs in the 70’ & 80s, but also by their children.

For Clarke, a memorable performance is a marriage between the technical aspects coming together and an interactive audience. She has too many favourite songs to list, but notes “the most emotional I have felt on stage is when several hundred people sing the song Landslide with me…that’s an incredible experience”. She and her husband are more inspired by ‘old school music’ but also lists modern artists such as Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran as some of her favourites for their crafted lyrics and vocal ability. This got me thinking about the Starry Eyed and Thinking Out Loud tribute bands that might emerge 50 years from now…

A lot of administration is involved in orchestrating a tour away from Auckland, Landslide’s home base, but Clarke reckons they’re keen to make the trip East a regular thing.  I’ve started rehearsing in the shower for Landslide’s next show, but until then, you can stay up to date with the group at

www.facebook.com/landslideshow

 

Subscribe!

Sign up to receive The Weekly Roundabout for upcoming events, new Gizzy Local content & links to other good stuff to keep you connected in the best possible way.

Kia Ora! Thanks for subscribing :)

X