Hōmai Haumaru helping rangatahi express themselves through art

Late last year a group of rangatahi artists and their friends and whānau came together for the opening of the Hōmai Haumaru exhibition in Ōtaki. The kaupapa is focused on giving rangatahi space to express their thoughts and feelings on mental health issues and suicide through creating art.

Published: Thursday, 2 February 2023 | Rāpare, 02 Huitanguru, 2023

The exhibition was the result of months of wānanga and hard work, and was an opportunity for the artists and their creations to be celebrated.

The kaupapa was created by Hohepa Thompson, better known as Hori, an artist, designer, gallery and café owner and an advocate for te reo me ōna tikanga Māori.

Born and raised in Ōtaki, and previously a high school teacher, Hori is well known in the area and is familiar with many of the local rangatahi.

Hōmai Haumaru evolved from a series of exhibitions of the same name which Hori put on during lockdown. These exhibitions explored similar topics, resulting in heavy, confronting and deeply personal pieces of art.

“That was the catalyst for it”, says Hori. “I drew from my previous exhibitions to create something that would work for rangatahi.”

537 Lives - This piece was created by a rangatahi who loves graffiti art. The number 537 represents how many lives were lost to suicide in Aotearoa in 2021.

With support from Te Puni Kōkiri through the Rangatahi Manawaroa Fund, this version of the Hōmai Haumaru kaupapa was born.

Hori and the rangatahi artists spent time together sharing kōrero on their lives and their hauora, while covering artistic techniques and preparing works for the exhibition, discussing how to best express what they were feeling through their art.

“Art is such an important tool to tell a story”, says Hori. “Especially for the tough guys, it’s a way for them to be vulnerable and really express how they are feeling”.

A number of other artists and speakers came to kōrero with the rangatahi during their wānanga, including Pera Barrett, Xoë Hall, Miriama Grace-Smith, Tāme Iti, and Kereama Taepa.

These well-known creatives gave the kaupapa a broader focus, bringing different artistic mediums and discussions to the table.

The long-awaited exhibition took place on Thursday 17 November at The Hori Gallery in Ōtaki beach.

Artists had the option to speak about their work if they felt comfortable doing so. A number of them took on this wero, surprising their whānau with open and upfront kōrero on these difficult issues, which can often be accompanied by a sense of whakamā.

Whiro-te-tipua - This piece represents Whiro-te-Tipua, the god of darkness and embodiment of evil. At a glance Whiro seems big and strong, but if you look closer you see his small face and nervous looking eyes. This work is about kōrero, and the power it holds. If we speak about our dark thoughts we scare away Whiro-te-Tipua and stop dark actions.

“It’s all about normalising this kind of kōrero,” says Hori. “Sometimes you are going to have a bad day or a bad week, it’s about having the tools to be able to deal with that”.

Lia Forrest, Te Puni Kōkiri Te Tai Hauāuru Regional Advisor, says that the need for rangatahi programmes in the area was evident.

“We did a regional engagement tour and met with rangatahi providers to figure out what the landscape actually was”, says Lia. “The Horowhenua and Kāpiti region had the worst statistics for rangatahi within Te Tai Hauāuru”.

“The engagement told us that these rangatahi basically had nothing to do”, Lia says.

“Boredom can be deadly” adds Hori.

In the future Hori is keen to expand Hōmai Haumaru, opening it up to more rangatahi across Aotearoa and widening the scope of the programme, using other mediums for rangatahi to express themselves such as music and dance.

The exhibition at The Hori Gallery was open for a month, and this year the artwork is going to be part of an exhibition in Toi Matarau, the Māoriland Hub Art Gallery.

The individual works are then planned to be auctioned, with funds raised going to Gumboot Friday.

“Art is enduring,” says Lia. “It tells a story and the story remains, so it keeps living.”

“The stories told by these rangatahi will live through their art.”

Lead image caption: Hori and the group of rangatahi artists standing in front of their work at the Hōmai Haumaru exhibition opening.