I recognise the goth girl in the photo because we both went to Lyton High in the 80s. Where I strived for homogeneity Mel Tahata gave a middle finger to the norm. She stood out from the crowd, and at the time I admired her bravery in being authentically herself which is something I struggled with. I saw her as a rebel.
She wasn’t a rebel when it came to being studious, she says. Bookish and creative with good grades in school, Mel moved to Auckland to atend university and in 1997 she completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts. We discuss our mutual enjoyment of watching TV with cats, as cats feature heavily in Mel's latest exhibition. I ask her if she's an introvert. "I guess I am, but I haven't always been. I used to be socially out there, DJing at goth festivals" playing tunes from the likes of Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy and The Cult.
However, her whakapapa is here, and in 2005 she came home to raise her son and become more involved in iwi and community projects.
Mel works full time as a graphic designer and sign writer and does her art in her spare time, along with completing a masters at Toihoukura. Her range spans from sculpting and painting to intaglio printmaking. Some of the pieces in her latest exhibition 'Rima Tekau' are etchings on aluminium.
The intaglio process is when the artist carves an image into a metal plate using different tools or chemicals. This manipulates the plate to hold ink, ‘creating unique textures and tones.’ Mel has used printer's ink on hers and there is a playfulness to the images on metal.
She also dabbles in filmmaking, animation, writing and producing but most importantly, she is a mother, and I can see the whanaugatanga and aroha for her son in her art. He and her cats, her whānau, feature in many of the pieces, with the artist herself in the bones of each piece.
I note a mix of contemporary Māori and gothic in the exhibition. When I say gothic, I don't just mean aesthetics. Goths in the 80s were socially and politically anti-establishment and there is a sense of that in these pieces, too. Mel explains that the style is a type of indigenous surrealism, based on whakairo/carvings of iwi carvers from Ruatorea like Hone Taahu. "There is fun in his style of carving." Some of her other art influences are international, like Marcel Duchamp and Ai Weiwei, so there is a mix to suit different preferences here.
Rima Tekau is on at the Tairāwhiti Museum until the 10th December. I especially recommend this exhibition to anyone who loves cats and Māori families. Take the opportunity to buy a slice of aroha from the artist’s home, to hang on the walls of yours.
By Aimee Vickers Images supplied.