University of Auckland Art Collection

Abseilers installing Siu I Moana in the University of Auckland Science Centre

The team of abseilers from Total Access Heights Department adjusting the ngatu in the Science Centre atrium.

The University of Auckland Art Collection comprises more than 1500 pieces and is well regarded for its works by many of New Zealand’s best-known and most loved artists. The collection is a valuable cultural asset shared across campuses and luckily for us, it’s permanently on display.

One of the jewels of the collection is a three-part work entitled Siu I Moana, “reaching across the ocean”. The large ngatu (tapa), which measure approximately 4.5 x 5 metres, hang in the Science Centre atrium. A team of abseilers recently scaled the high walls of the atrium to adjust the magnets which secure the three ngatu to frames.

The works are a collaboration between Dame Robin White, Ruha Fifita and a local Tongan women’s group, initially created in conjunction with the Kermadecs Project, 2011. You can watch the ngatu being created in this short film by director Bruce Foster.

As noted by the National Gallery of Victoria’s Judith Ryan in her essay about Siu I Moana, the work is “an acknowledgement of those things that connect different peoples, infusing ordinary materials such as tinned food, tea packaging and jandals with human values that are timeless and, like an ocean, borderless”.

Artist Dame Robin White stitching on ngatu cloth

Artist Dame Robin White stitching one of the templates for Siu I Moana.

Tongan ngatu is made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, which is beaten to produce thin sheets of paper skin. Brown dye brings out the pattern from the raised elements beneath and key motifs heightened by hand painting.

Siu I Moana will feature in New Zealand and the Sea, an upcoming book edited by Dr Frances Steel and released by independent Wellington publishers Bridget Williams Books.

Other works by Dame Robin White are also held in the Art Collection, including a portrait of the poet Sam Hunt titled Sam Hunt, Bottle Creek (1970) which is currently hung on Level 1 of the General Library.

Learn more about the University’s Art Collection.

Lara Thomas, Art Collection Assistant