In City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi’s latest exhibition, Matarau, Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi uri (descendant) and Whanganui-raised ringatoi (artist) Ming Ranginui is making things that are “pretty and impractical, but always impactful”.
In a palette of pastel pinks and pale purples, Ranginui has reimagined a humble Daihastu into a home in her latest piece, Angel Numbers on the Dash.
Appropriating crafts she thinks her nana would take up, she brings a tapu (sacredness) to the once secular. Satin-lined seats too ornate to sit on, frilly steering wheel covers and a chandelier combine to create a distinctive statement.
Accompanying her “decked out Daihastsu” is an opulent satin sleeping bag commissioned for her most recent exhibition, Cruel Optimism: New Artist Show.
Curated by Shannon Te Ao, Matarau aims to respond to turbulent times and explores the role that art can play in navigating the newfound complexities of everyday life.
Until August 14, Ranginui will be joined by an all-Māori crew of artists including Robyn Kahukiwa, Emily Karaka, Hemi Macgregor, James Tapsell-Kururangi and Kei te pai press.
Te Ao says the artists, all at different stages of their careers, have resonated strongly with the themes of the exhibition. “This show displays a range of responses to the present day, touching on the uncertainty we have collectively endured these past few years.”
Ranginu says her work often speaks to what she’s going through at the time. Experiencing frustration trying to find a home, Ranginui was fuelled with mamae (hurt) for those in a similar circumstance.
“At first I was cynical. I was between houses and was trying to find something for me and my boyfriend.
“We would apply for homes and constantly get rejected. So originally I was like, ‘Stuff this housing crisis, I’ll go live in my car then!’”
As an artist Ming admits that her occupation and age don’t afford her much security. “I think it’s because I look so ‘wishy-washy’ on paper.”
Feeling an overwhelming sense of insecurity, instability and desperation, Ranginui sought divine intervention.
“When you lose control of the wheel, you often turn to faith. Like you hope and pray that something good might just happen.”
Not religious herself, Ranginui confessed that the hopeless house hunt had her searching for guidance.
“I’ve had a period of this before where I was very lost. Where I felt like I was losing control of my life. During that time I turned to new age spiritualism, just because I needed something to believe in.
“A lot of the work is about finding ‘tohu’ [signs]. Just like how when we drive we look for signs to know we’re on the right track. The piece focuses on the ‘signs’ that we take from the world – whether that be from God, the universe or whoever else you believe in.”
With little details such as an air freshener in the shape of a cross, rosary beads and a cherub car bonnet mascot, the messages to keep faith in times of turbulence are pronounced.
The contemporary Māori artist says inspiration can come from all over the place but, in this case, she found hers closer to home. From an artistic family, Ranginui’s mother, Tia Ranginui, is a photographer who has also featured in Te Whare Toi.
Whānau was the saving grace Ranginui needed. Homing herself and the Daihastu at her mother-in-law’s place, she says she couldn’t have completed the piece without the stability brought by family.
“This experience really changed what the car was about for me. Initially it was going to be a living space but over time it became more hopeful.”
Angel Numbers on the Dashboard was named with the intention of materialising the hopes and wishes of its audience.
“I hope people find their own tohu and feel a little bit optimistic.”
Manifestations for Ranginui finally culminated in a home on the very street where her nan was raised.
“When my grandparents died we had to move out because the house belonged to Housing New Zealand. It was sad, but it’s all worked out now. This full circle experience has me believing manifestation is real.”
Next on Ranginui’s list is raranga. Pursuing the traditional art of Māori weaving at Te Whare Wānanga o Raukawa, the contemporary artist is eager to connect with her taha Māori.
“I've always felt like, because I do so much with my hands, of course I need to learn raranga and taniko.”
In the driver's seat on her journey of reclamation and personal growth, Ranginui is making tracks towards personal greatness.
Matarau and Angel Numbers on the Dash, City Gallery Wellington, free, until August 14.
This is a Public Interest Journalism funded role through NZ On Air