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Waikato artists are championing the fight for unity through works of art that speak powerful messages of hurt, sorrow, hope and strength. The creative works aim to spark crucial conversations against racism and fuel the narrative for kotahitanga.

Art is magical. The creative act combines texture and colours, sounds and shapes into a unique arrangement that tells stories, communicates ideas, and engages emotion. When you experience a display of creativity in any format it actively engages a range of things in our bodies – including the motor cortex, the thing that controls our movements. What this means is that when we look at art, we don’t just see it, or hear it, or sense it, but we feel it with our entire being. That is literal magic. Every fibre of our being – senses, intellect, emotions, muscles, nerve endings – responds to works of art.

No matter the challenges we are facing, exploring our lives through art, culture and creativity allows us to find new possibilities and to more clearly understand the realities of the world, of other people and of ourselves. It can reduce stress, encourage new thought and conversation, and contribute to happiness. I’m sure we all have memories of a time where an artwork made us happy – a favourite song, a painting, a film, a story. This is the magic of creativity at work.

As we face difficult times, we turn to art, culture and creativity to make sense of things. Just as in response to instances of racism that emerged in the first lockdown of 2020, we turned to artists to respond with a celebration of inclusivity and to inspire conversation through creativity in the first Kotahitanga collection. In this way, our artists served as guides to look at the world in different ways. To find different connections between people and places. To encourage us to be kind. To celebrate the things that make us unique and to move beyond our own limitations into new possibilities.

At the core, creative experiences are an act of kindness. They help us to find space, to find connection, and to experience some much-needed magic. The works in the Kotahitanga collection are a celebration of that kindness. Kindness from the artist to themselves in expressing their ideas and stories. Kindness to the collection as a growing body of Waikato work. Kindness to our communities through sharing inspiration and insight. And of course, kindness to one another as we draw from our creative experience and bring that into our daily life.

Art and culture are things that we can experience individually to remind us that we are together. We are connected. There are many different types of people and there are many different types of art. Part of the trick with finding the magic is in finding the art that connects with you as a person. This collection shares many different artforms, from many different artists, there is sure to be something in here that sparks that magic for you. Take some time with the collection, experience the works, hear the stories, find the thing that brings you some joy, and celebrate it. Perhaps you might even make your own creative response to it and continue the creative conversation into your whānau.

To finish, I share these wise words from a young poet at a school in Raglan:

“Kindness is a small brick. Let’s use them to build our world.”

Jeremy Mayall

CEO, Creative Waikato

Kotahi te kohao o te ngira e kuhuna ai te miro ma, te miro pango, te miro whero

In 1858, when Kiingi Pootatau Te Wherowhero uttered those famous lines of the whakatauki during his installation as the first Maaori sovereign (Ariki), he spoke in the presence of Tainui and the great Tuuwharetoa Rangatira (Chief), Iwikau Te Heuheu. Those words still ring out to us all today. They are words possessing the same urgency and potency today; encouraging a spirit of peaceful solidarity. The operative word in this whakatauki (proverb) is kotahi. Kotahi — literally as one, or, together. Kotahitanga is the action of gathering together in a spirit of unity.

Creative Waikato Toi Waikato has taken up the challenge of Kiingi Pootatau. With the launch of a new initiative: Kotahitanga Through Creativity. Its kaupapa speaks plainly about the vision of Creative Waikato, to build a sense of whanaungatanga or family and unity through the artistic offerings of artists, poets, carvers, ceramicists, designers, music and performance in the Waikato. At this very point in post-Covid-19 history when the world stood still in unity, in the face of Black Lives Matters in the United States and the world standing in solidarity, there could not be a better time to start Kotahitanga Through Creativity.

Let us, of all cultures and creeds in Tainui rohe, honour Tangata Whenua through the observance of the words of Te Arikinui Pootatau Te Wherowhero, and all work toward going through the eye of this point in history, together.

Leafa Wilson

Art curator, Waikato Museum Te Whare Taonga o Waikato