Mabgate Mural

I have recently returned from a research and development trip to Leeds in England, kindly funded by the Jan Warburton Arts Trust.  The purpose of the trip was to meet up with the original group I worked with on this Mabgate mural and also to meet with other people who are interested in its restoration 32 years later.

Early in my career as a community artist working in Britain I worked on this mural with the local high school’s students..

The students researched local stories of West Indians in Leeds but information proved difficult to find so the design figured the students themselves. The windows became a kind of timeline showing different periods and figure the student’s portraits documenting the arrival of West Indians in Leeds and the various work they and others undertook to make a living in this area. The students took a lot of ownership of the mural and this pride and recognition of its importance has continued to the present day.

After 32 years it is showing signs of wear and tear and there has been a push from the community to restore the mural. The original people involved are keen to be re involved and have expressed a strong desire for the imagery to remain the same. These students are now parents and have careers and families of their own. As well the Mabgate area has become a unique and increasingly significant cultural quarter because of its close proximity to Leeds’ city centre and its eclectic mix of historic industrial buildings. These attributes have made it highly attractive to young artists and creative businesses, many of whom have established studios and workshops in the area. Restoration of the mural has prompted interest from the Leeds Civic Trust and other local arts agencies.

In terms of my career this has been an interesting opportunity to revisit an early work and to reconnect with a community I was deeply involved with during the duration of this project. As well it has been rewarding to recognise the deep and enduring power of community arts and also to reflect on the journey of developing a career that has sustained my working life. My experience as a young community artist in Northern England laid the groundwork – you could say I completed my apprenticeship there – for my continued career as an artist community artist in New Zealand. It gave me confidence and taught me perseverance through times when the value of community arts was not always seen. Its a story of a full circle – one could say not often experienced in life.

Suffrage 125 Banners Opening – Old Government Building, Wellington

These were my words on the day…

‘Thank you all for coming to the opening of the exhibition of the National Banner project that celebrates 125 years of women’s suffrage in New Zealand Aotearoa.

Within an organisation it usually takes one person who gets what you are on about – a special thank you to Rosemary Baird from Heritage New Zealand for making this project happen and to Pam Bain for her continued support and to Mary Southerwood who spent hours tying up threads. Thanks also to Creative New Zealand for a bit of dosh.

This partnership project between Heritage New Zealand and me, stretched geographically from Northland to Southland, from Rawene to Gore.

It also stretched back in time, reaching back into the stories of the past, of early interaction between Maori and the early settlers, of the challenges and hardships of those times, and the amazing individuals and groups who fought so hard for women’s suffrage. It also heard the stories of women and girls of today who came to honour those women who had and have made a difference in their lives.

All of these remarkable and amazing stories and rememberings of the past, were carried out within the walls of significant heritage buildings that have themselves stood witness to the transforming of the lives of those who have lived and worked in them. Many of the participants commented on the energy of the past they felt as they worked away on their contribution.

It was a privilege for me to be part of this wonderful journey celebrating the story of the fight for women to be able to vote. Hundreds of women have contributed to this project, mostly in person at a workshop, but many are also represented on the banner in the use of beautiful crafts from the past..

The original petition, 274 metres long and weighing 7 kilos, was assembled together on Kate Sheppard’s kitchen table. The banners of this suffrage 125 project were assembled on many other historical tables – from the cabinet room table to a Temperance supper table. The final assembling of these banners was done on my kitchen table – temperance of course… The continuing story of women’s creativity.

Kate Sheppard famously said:

Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops.’

For me this quote sums up this Suffrage 125 project – women and girls and other supporters from all walks of life have created and added their individual stories to the collective whole, that’s what these finished banners are about.

Photo Credits:  
Simon Hoyle & Janet de Wagt


‘The Fossil Family goes to Tamatea Dusky Sound’

My mother tells me that even as a very young child I created miniature cities, filling them with people, cars, trees and houses. That interest has never left me. So the restrictions on space on my trip to Dusky Sound saw me move from painting on location to photographing my Fossil Family in the location.

The Fossil Family are part of my historical plastic collection and I have photographed them in many different environments and situations around the world. Their individual personalities and qualities have slowly emerged over this time. It seemed natural when I was invited by the Department of Conservation to Dusky Sound as part of the Tamatea Art Project, to take them with me.

My time on Anchor Island was very special and I learnt about the work that is involved on a day to day basis by passionate workers to help ensure the survival of Aotearoa New Zealand’s unique flora, fauna and special places.

My book launch was held at Murihiku Maori and Pasifika Cultural Trust’s rooms in Invercargill – a big thank you to Pauline and Ari for all their help!

The book is available for purchase at Gallery De Novo Dunedin, Eastern Southland Gallery Gore, DOC Visitors Centre Te Anau, Orokonui Sanctuary Waitati, PC Gallery Port Chalmers or from me.

Suffrage 125 – National Banner Project

I’ve been very busy over the last few weeks with this project and have been to Ferrymead in Christchurch for Heritage week, then to Wellington and the Cabinet Room of the Old Government Building working with Te Roopu Raranga o Manaia and last weekend, here in Dunedin, at the Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall.

It must be 20 years since I was last at Ferrymead and it was great to be back – I just love it!  It was a busy workshop with many participants young and old.

It was nice to go to Wellington and the Old Government Building and see the place where the banners will finally be hung next year in April.  Working with a friendly group of weavers and glad to learn a new weaving stitch from them.

Back home and a steady day at Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall.  A big thank you to the Scottish shop for their donation of the Dunedin tartan!

Suffrage 125 ‘Alberton’

This project is a partnership with Heritage New Zealand and aims to celebrate 125 years since New Zealand women gained the vote with the making of banners in seven historically significant places around NZ.

It was just wonderful to work with a great bunch of people in this beautiful old home – a home where suffragettes had meetings when they were fighting for the vote.  It felt as if the family had just stepped out for the day and let us use the ballroom to make the banners in.

it was a busy day and beautiful work was done by very talented and creative women, young and old.  The day was a real celebration of both suffrage and creativity, full of laughter and the sharing of stories.

A big thank you to Francesca and Rendell for such a great day and to Creative New Zealand for their funding contribution to this project!

Community Arts Toolkit

Earlier this year I was asked by Creative New Zealand to be one of the artists interviewed about their experiences and knowledge of working in community arts to help create Keteparaha Mo Nga Toi Hapori (Community Arts Toolkit) –  a best practice guide to community arts projects in Aotearoa New Zealand.  The kit can be accessed here: Community Arts Toolkit – Creative New Zealand

I was interviewed in the Art room at Bathgate Park school where I am Artist in Residence 2 days a week.

My Piece of Nature

This is an ongoing  community arts project designed in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC).    The project’s aim was to connect communities to their local natural environment and give participants an opportunity to celebrate their love of nature through art and share this with the wider community. Many groups joined this project and many workshops were held in Te Anau, Manapouri, Invercargill, Riversdale, Dunedin, Motueka and Nelson.  Community groups from Kids Restore the Kepler, Dunedin Creative Fibre, Manapouri Art group, James Hargest College, Murihiku Maori & Pasifika Trust, Blue Mountain College, The Shed, Auckland Point school and many more.

Participants in the My Piece of Nature workshops were invited to think about how nature is important to them, and express these ideas through the decoration of two small wooden cubes – one kept by the person and the other added to the project.  Hundreds of cubes were decorated!

These workshops were made possible with funding from Creative New Zealand and the Department of Conservation.

Sanctuary – Artists Against Slavery

This is the second year I have exhibited with this group.  It is interesting that a small gallery in a rural area in New Zealand with the help of a group of volunteers can put on an exhibition with an important message.  In fact within the art establishment around the world discussions are taking place about the sources of funding and sponsorship for public art galleries.  Do these sources have an interest in arms, money laundering, sex slavery and human trafficking.  How independent should a public art gallery be and what is its social responsibility.