STITCHED UP: If life gives you scraps you better start sewing, says fabric artist Maungarongo Te Kawa, whose exhibition is on at the gallery space at Whakatane’s library. Photo supplied

CORNERS of the Heart, an art quilt exhibition by Maungarongo “Ron” Te Kawa, is about being seen and about not being a human shadow.

Te Kawa, a Woodville-based fabric artist, said his exhibition was “from the corner of my heart to the corner of your heart”.

“To walk down a street and not be seen and not be acknowledged as human, sometimes we do that to each other,” he says of his inspiration behind the show.

The artist’s exhibition is on now at Brookfields Lawyers Gallery at Te Koputu, Whakatane’s library and exhibition centre.

A fashion designer who sewed costumes for opera, ballet and private clients for 20 years, Te Kawa said he was first taught to sew by his dad on an old sewing machine picked up at a garage sale.

Te Kawa is also a storyteller and his quilts tell stories that challenge and poke fun.

“My process, where I start from, I suppose where most artists start from, there is something resonating inside that needs to get out, something you need to share.

ON SHOW: Artist Maungarongo Te Kawa shows off his quilts. D9961-07

“I made those quilts over the past eight months, just stuff that touched my heart.”

The common thread running through his exhibition is about being seen, about happiness, kindness and joy.

“I think as a Maori artist the tikanga has always been to uplift other people with your art, your music, your songs and whatever you are doing, so I just try to do some of that. Whakapapa and friends are the stiches that hold everything together.”

He said some people saw his quilts as being quite radical.

“But I don’t really think they are. People recognise what is coming from an honest place.”

His work in his latest exhibition is very personal.

“I have been working with a dance healing tutor, so this exhibition is the result of the work in my journals, in my diaries, and the stuff I have done in the dance healing class.

“I travel to Wellington to do it and compared to other exhibitions it has been a vulnerable experience to look inside, turn to yourself, be vulnerable and be honest.”

Te Kawa said quilting originated as a war technology. “It was the clothes the soldiers would wear under their armour in the crusades and I just wanted to undo that thinking completely and make it something liberating beautiful, healing and creative”.
Creativity is at Te Kawa’s core.

“There has a been a lot of korero about STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education and, it is important, but without creativity and relationships it is nothing.

“In science you are just coming up with the same answers all the time. So that is part of my journey, teaching people …not just to make quilts but to think outside the square and think of different ways they can come up with solutions.”

Te Kawa runs workshops, with quilts and puppets, at marae and schools, and last year was at Kawerau South School where students put together a massive quilt of self-portraits.

In 2019 he was named ACE Maori Educator of the Year for his work with rangatahi, teaching them to express themselves with fabric art

“I am a storyteller, and I have quite a neat show that I do with the quilts and the puppets which is all about my life.

“When I teach workshops it is all about getting other people to tell their stories and be seen because it is healing and self-loving.”

Quilting for Te Kawa is an art, and he does not follow traditional European schools of quilting, but rather drawing inspiration from African, Fijian and Guatemalan quilts.

Te Kawa’s first exhibition – Bitter and Twisted – in 1990, was politically motivated, but has now come full circle.