KARAKA, Emily;

Moe Mai Rā, Tohorā

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Acrylic, oil and oil pastel on canvas
1830 x 1830mm (image); 1880 x 1880mm (frame)

This work shows a large tohorā lying underneath Tāne Mahuta, a mighty kauri tree in Waipoua forest who shares his name with the god of the forest. In Te Tai Tokerau Northland, kauri and tohorā are understood to be siblings, children of Tāne. Long ago, they lived together on the land. Donna Kerridge has written:

‘One day Tohorā went to his beloved tuakana and asked him to come live in the ocean with him. Kauri, not wanting to leave the land, gave Tohorā his blessing as they exchanged parting gifts. Tohorā exchanged skin with Kauri, complete with scales so that he could grow tall and majestic above the tree canopy … Tohorā’s skin was now smooth except for large callosities in place of the scales he had given to Kauri. Kauri in turn gave Tohorā his oil, so that he might have extra warmth as he traversed the ocean’s currents … Kauri kept for himself only enough sticky resin to heal his skin, should he need to shed any of his newly acquired scales.’

Moe Mai Rā, Tohorā was made during Emily Karaka’s time as the first McCahon House Artist in Residence for 2021. It formed part of a major solo exhibition, Rāhui, which drew a connection between the rāhui (customary prohibition on access) placed by Te Kawerau ā Maki on the Waitākere Forest to combat kauri dieback and the lockdowns used to limit the spread of COVID-19. A remedy trialled elsewhere was the application of a blubber-based preparation to the roots of kauri, this concept being based both on the relationship between Kauri and Tohorā, and on the understanding that oils might help prevent the infectant from gaining entry to the trees via their root systems.

Karaka hopes that when kauri, whales, and other non-human beings are understood as godly ancestors for whom we are custodian-descendants, our sense of responsibility to them will strengthen.

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Exhibition History

Gathered Voices: Highlights from the Fletcher Trust Collection, New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, Te Whanganui-a-Tara, 15 September to 11 December 2022 (toured)

Emily Karaka, Rāhui, Visions, Tāmaki Makaurau, 29 April to 13 June 2021


Fletcher Trust Collection, purchased from the artist, April 2022