Maureen Lander and the students weaving magic

Renowned Māori artist Dr Maureen Lander is working alongside students from several faculties at her alma mater to create an intricate installation artwork in the University of Auckland's Engineering building.

Maureen Lander in the Engineering building in February working on the installation Pou Iho.
Maureen Lander in the Engineering building in February working on the installation Pou Iho. Photo: Billy Wong

Over the years, the University of Auckland Art Collection has purchased and commissioned many artworks for our campuses, to create vibrant cultural spaces for our University community, but a current artwork commission is also providing hands-on experience for our students.

Pou Iho is a project that has resulted in an opportunity for a group of students to work collaboratively with each other under the guidance of celebrated Māori installation artist and weaver, Dr Maureen Lander (Ngāpuhi, Te Hikutu).

They have designed and are creating a new work being installed in the atrium of the Engineering Building 405, Te Herenga Mātai Pūkaha. The kaupapa of the project embodies what lies at the heart of the University – the aspiration for and the passing down of knowledge.

The installation artwork was proposed as a response to the pou whenua, the carving commissioned by the Faculty of Engineering, which now stands outside the building. The concept for Pou Iho is embedded in the long-standing history that Engineering and the University of Auckland holds, while drawing inspiration for the design from the tukutuku panels woven by Mere Toka (located in the University ClockTower).

The Pou Iho installation being designed for the atrium consists of two elements – a ladder-style treatment of large wooden poles (pou), and patterned panels that sit inside circular steel beams surrounding the poles. Both components are a combination of laser-cut and engraved acrylic, with hand-stitched and braided flax elements.

The transdisciplinary project has provided a real-world employment opportunity for students from Engineering, Architecture and Fine Arts to work together.

Atareta Black, a masters student at Elam, says she enjoyed being able to collaborate with other students across different faculties on the project.

“It’s really satisfying to see everyone apply their own creative skills and knowledge, which we’ve all developed within our respective disciplines, and put everything we’ve learnt over the years at the University into practice.”

She says a lot of time on the project was spent in the collaborators’ homes during lockdown.

“Working on a collaborative project from a distance had its challenges, but we were fortunate to be able to continue the project despite the circumstances. It’s really rewarding looking at the beginning of our journey and finally coming together as a group to see the installation through to the end.”

With the campus allowed to be open under Covid-19 red setting, Maureen and the students have been working together on site to physically create the artwork, with the support of the Art Collection and the Faculty of Engineering.

All going to plan and Covid cases not withstanding, Pou Iho will be on display in the Engineering B405 Te Herenga Mātai Pūkaha Atrium soon for staff, students and the wider community to see.

Lara Koolen, Kaitohutohu Kohinga Toi, Art Collection Adviser

This article first appeared in the March 2022 UniNews.