People of midtown: artist Graham Tipene

Publish Date : 30 Aug 2022
Graham Tipene Credit Bryan Lowe (1)

Graham Tipene’s artwork can be found across Tāmaki Makaurau, from the impressive concrete panels in the Waterview Tunnel and Albany’s stunning Tirohanga Whānui walking and cycling bridge, to the Central City Library and Te Ao Mārama (South Atrium) at Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Tipene (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Haua, Ngāti Manu) is one of the most in-demand artists and consultants for projects that ensure te ao Māori is an intrinsic part of the urban landscape.

“I grew up in Auckland at a time when the only place to see Māori representation in art was in the museum or the statue in downtown,” he says, referring to Molly Macalister’s 1967 bronze sculpture A Māori Figure in a Kaitaka Cloak. "I thought it wasn’t good enough and we needed to do better for our kids who don’t see themselves in their environment.”

When a maths teacher told him that drawing would never get him anywhere, Tipene took it as a challenge and went on to study Māori design before becoming a tā moko (traditional Māori tattoo) artist. In the early 2000s, he started adorning places as well as people.

Tipene always takes a holistic approach to ensuring Māori voices and values underpin his work. “I tell people, ‘Don’t build it and then ask us [Māori] to come and make it look pretty,’” he says. “That sort of thinking belongs to the past, not today where we have a seat at the table from the beginning.”

He’s currently working on the City Rail Link’s Te Waihorotiu Railway Station (Aotea) and transforming the city-end gateway to Myers Park, using art as a way to recognise Queen Street’s history as a wetland valley and to honour Horotiu, the kaitiaki (guardian) of Te Wai Horotiu stream.

“With most artwork, you stand in front of it. But I wanted to think differently with this one, so you prepare your senses to look, feel and listen,” Tipene explains.

“It’s about whakarongo – listening – and trying to make an emotional connection. If you sing the right notes – the tune, the pitch – this artwork will sing back to you.”

We invite you to walk with artist Graham Tipene through his childhood memories of midtown, hear how he is part of the team bringing cultural expression to the Te Waihorotiu Station (Aotea) portals and the wider midtown area, and learn why that is so important.

This is the first episode in our People of Midtown series. Watch here and enjoy Graham’s journey along the new section of Federal Street, and then underground with the Link Alliance team to Te Waihorotiu Station (Aotea) while under construction.

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