Local artists and tertiary art students have collaborated to create a new piece of large-scale art that celebrates the culture and diversity of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

Students Nikita Sharma, Celia Lee and Jenny Zhong were chosen to design and paint one panel of the three-panelled mural after Study Auckland invited art students to join the project. The aim of the Study Auckland panel was to give international students the opportunity to work with respected local artists Ross Liew, Hana Maihi of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei and Te Whetū Collective member Poi Ngawati and explore what it means to make public art in New Zealand. 

The other two panels have been designed and painted by Hana and Poi to bring awareness to the rich Māori heritage and taiao (environment) on which the city was founded. Collectively, the three panels depict the importance of welcoming different cultures and diversity in Te Tōangaroa - an area which spans from the end of Britomart to The Strand – and Tāmaki Makaurau.

Elements of the biodiversity that once characterised the rich environmental and cultural landscape of Te Tōangaroa, as well as Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei’s history as mana whenua of Tāmaki, have also been highlighted in the mural design.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Whai Rawa Cultural Design Executive Mei Hill says other Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei initiatives are planned to reinvigorate the cultural footprint of Te Tōangaroa. “Sharing the journey of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei through art is just the beginning of how we intend to bring to life the masterplan for Te Tōangaroa. Our vision is a space where the people of Tāmaki can come together and enjoy and respect the culture and environment this city and its people have to offer,” says Mei.

To help with the design process, the students participated in a three-day wānanga at Ōrākei Marae with Hana to learn about Māori history and of the mural’s location in Te Tōangaroa, which is on Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei owned land.

Nikita – who is from India and a recent arts graduate from Unitec – enjoyed working on the project. “Our panel depicts diversity, inclusion and culture,” she says. “It has been an incredible experience being part of the mural team. The project has given us the chance to give something back to the city and to the people who have welcomed us. We hope people feel a sense of connection to the artwork.”

A design element in the students’ panel is the poutama, a well-known step-like pattern seen in tukutuku panels adorning the walls of wharenui. This pattern not only provides structure to the design, it also represents the three hapū of Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei – Te Taou, Te Uringutu and Nga Oho.

Water is another element in the students’ panel with the depiction of an awa (stream) in the design. This is a reference to the local tributaries that once flowed into the Waitematā Harbour. A variety of flowers from different countries also feature to reference the diverse cultures in Tāmaki Makaurau. The international students’ panel was fully funded by a $20,000 grant through the Ministry of Education’s International Student Wellbeing Fund. The other two panels were funded by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei.

Auckland Unlimited’s Head of International Education Henry Matthews says the project was a positive collaboration between local artists and international students. “This artwork collaboration truly reflects the principle of hospitality amongst the diverse cultures that make up our collective world right here in Tāmaki Makaurau. It’s been a privilege to see this project grow into reality and I congratulate all the artists involved.”

About the mural

  • The mural is painted on a three-sided 12-metre air vent.
  • It is located on the corner of Tangihua Street and Dockside Lane in the Te Tōangaroa precinct.
  • The mural took 10 days to complete.