Canvassing the Treaty

A thought-provoking documentary following six New Zealand artists as they gain deeper insights into the Treaty of Waitangi and create cross-cultural collaborative artworks.

Watch this 15 min clip of Sofia Minson and Peap's collaboration: 

The Canvassing the Treaty Project

The creation of the collaborative painting "Te Pou Tuatahi" (pictured right) by Sofia Minson and Samapeap Tarr, a graffiti artist of Cambodian and New Zealand heritage, was filmed for the documentary 'Canvassing the Treaty.' 

The thought provoking art and social experiment follows six New Zealand artists, three Maori and three non-Maori, as they gain deeper insights into the Treaty of Waitangi and create cross-cultural collaborative artworks. 

The experience happened over one weekend at Te Tii marae in Northland.  

The documentary aired on Maori TV on Waitangi Day in 2010 and at the FIFO international film festival in 2011.

Watch the full-length documentary in 6 parts:

(1 hour 18 minutes total)

The six aritsts and their whakapapa:

Mike Davison – Pakeha
Samapeap Tarr – Cambodian / Pakeha
Sofia Minson – Ngati Porou / Irish / English / Swedish
Kura Te Waru Rewiri – Ngati Kahu / Ngati Raukawa
Dagmar Dyck – Tongan / German
Chris Bryant – Ngati Porou / Pakeha

The project began with the artists being driven an hour and a half north of Auckland to a windswept cliff-top property at Pakiri, for an intensive wananga to learn about the Treaty of Waitangi from Moana Jackson and Ingrid Huygens, two experienced treaty educators. 

"The depth of knowledge and considered social and historical perspectives shared that day was priceless" says Sofia. "I learnt more about New Zealand's history in one day than I had in all my years at school."

The artists were then paired up. The condensed two and a half day process of artwork creation took place at the historically significant Te Tii Marae. Te Tii was the meeting ground where rangatira (chiefs) from many iwi debated the merits of the treaty on the night before it was signed. 

The Maori treaty text 'Te Tiriti o Waitangi', which confirms Maori authority and sovereignty and allows a limited legal and administrative system to govern British migrants, was signed up the road from Te Tii Marae at Waitangi by about 43 rangatira. It was then taken around the country where another 500 signatures were gathered.

Sofia who is of Ngati Porou, English, Swedish and Irish descent was to collaborate with Peap, to produce an artwork inspired by ideas about the treaty. 

​Sofia Minson and Samapeap Tarr's Collaborative Painting "Te Pou Tuatahi"

Sofia's oil painting of the central blue carved 'pou' in this artwork represents her Ngati Porou ancestors' waka. The Sanscrit symbol for Om, which is the sound of the universe, is spoken to us from the mouth of the ancestral figure. 

Surrounding the painting are Peap's black ink designs influenced by Cambodian legends of the Naga snake. Within his patterning are the words "The Treaty is a Tauranga Waka", which means that the Treaty is New Zealand's first immigration document. 

He has also written "Te Pou Tuatahi He Wakaputanga 1835", which means that the founding legal document for this country is The Declaration of Independence signed in 1835, five years before the Treaty of Waitangi.

Pou Symbolizing Ngati Porou Waka

The subject of Te Pou Tuatahi is an exaggerated representation of a pou (carved post) symbolizing the Ngati Porou waka 'Horouta'. The pou of Horouta stands in a line up of ten poupou at the grounds at Te Tii and together they represent the great waka traditions linking Aotearoa with the Pacific. Sofia found the link between the idea of waka and Te Tiriti o Waitangi very interesting.

Te Tiriti is effectively the first legal immigration document, which affirms the position of various iwi as absolute sovereign states, and welcomes the crown to become its own iwi and to govern its own people migrating to Aotearoa. In essence it is a 'tauranga waka' or a landing place, a vessel to pull people in. This land and this world is meant to be shared and therefore the pou in Te Pou Tuatahi is a waka of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness.

Ancestral Consciousness

On another level, Sofia sees the pou as being our ancestors speaking to us with the consciousness of the next world. The mouth is wide and is a void of blackness, within that blackness is the Sanskrit symbol Aum. Our ancestors are giving us the profound and unifying message of Aum, which is literally the resonating sound of the universe.

"The whole world has evolved from Aum The whole world is sustained by Aum The whole world will merge into Aum"
- Sivayave

Guru Sri Chinmoy said that the role of consciousness is to deepen silence and to expand sound. In his Colour Kingdom book the colour turquoise is connected with the idea of consciousness. The turquoise light glowing from the carved figure in the painting signifies the embodiment of a higher consciousness.

The figure's eye in the painting is the eye of a humpback whale. Whales are believed to have mass consciousness, not individual consciousnesses like man does. That means, if something happens to one whale, it is somehow known to the rest. Some believe the deeply peaceful presence emanating from whales, which is palpable to divers fortunate enough to experience close contact, as well as the sacrifice that whales make in beaching themselves, are in order to raise the vibration and compassion of humankind. The figure in the painting has essentially the same role as the humpback whale, as guardian of man.

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