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Rākau Kōrero – Kaitiaki

morgan mathews-hale Ōtautahi Christchurch artist and designer Morgan Mathews-Hale (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou, Tainui) @ Kaitiaki Studios (Ōtautahi-Christchurch) shares her views on bicultural collaboration and working together.

Ko Morgan Hale tōku ingoa. He uri tēnei nō Ngāi Tahu, nō Ngāti Porou, nō Tainui hoki.

As an artist and designer, I find true joy in visual expression and storytelling, and in seeing the impact my work has on the people who interact with it.


Kaitiaki is the Māori concept of guardianship, representing care and consideration and adapting ourselves internally as we exist in harmony with our natural world, with others in our lives, and within ourselves. Our purpose at Kaitiaki Studios is to connect communities with stories and tikanga from Te Ao Māori in a way that is inclusive and collaborative. The principles of Kaitiakitanga run through everything we do. We have a deep and personal connection to every artwork we create. And we are dedicated to building authentic, meaningful relationships with our clients.

morgan mathews-haleI am grateful to be invited to the tēpu as a Wāhine Māori ringa toi (Female Artist). Women are the first to Karanga on our marae, they are our life-givers and hold a very special connection to our tīpuna and whenua. I acknowledge our wāhine and the skills we have in the design field as educators, empaths, and effective communicators. We empower wāhine toa and am always grateful to represent us in this ever-changing taiao.

In a number of our commercial projects, there are often many at the table who have not engaged in iwi partnership models this way before and need some assistance with understanding. My wero (challenge) to all the parties in this collaborative is to engage with those that we work alongside with grace, patience and an open mind. We need to navigate this challenge from a place of understanding. To educate, rather than condemn, and make space for conversation, support and new ideas.

Kaitiaki and Tikanga

Te Ao Māori emphasises the importance of relationships between nature and people. Our awareness of tapu and noa is intrinsic. These Tikanga Tapu and Noa—are sacred or restricted places and practices, and Noa, the other. Whakanoa is the process in which we remove these spiritual restrictions. There will be times within the process where these Tikanga will guide our creative process. In some examples, this may
manifest as discussing the project
Kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face), karakia before a hui (meeting) or a show of manaakitanga by sharing kai. These tikanga also assure that our art forms and mark-making maintain a deep connection to where we are from, our connection to the whenua and the root systems that we hold to her. kaitiaki

As voyagers, we as Indigenous people have proven our ability to adapt and innovate. We navigated our oceans, and then Aotearoa, and adapted methods suited to the place, weather, climate, and available resources. These consistently changed our methods of Rongoa (medicine), food and harvest, and art forms, creating a chain of dispersed seeds, ngā kakano puanani across the Pacific.

We have also proven our skills to assimilate. To acknowledge all that came before us to advance us. To personify our surroundings so as to respect and acknowledge their place in the world. I believe we can continue to use these skills while navigating any present-day challenge. 

Whakapapa and Whenua

The nature of our true expression has also always stemmed from the organic (ō te whenua). Just as a Korowai Mūka, Te Ana Whakairo (Rock Art), or a carved Waka Huia, the marks we create, the process we follow and the depth of meaning behind our mahi toi (artworks) are also connected to our whakapapa and whenua. For the design or artwork to truly reflect who we are as Māori, it must speak through us. The art form needs to be designed by Māori as we connect to our WHY. The purpose.

Within the commercial design world, we are quick to simplify. In some instances, this would then dilute the connections built by the mark-making processes of our tīpuna (ancestors). Of course, the potential application must be considered in conjunction with multiple aspects. These include the new advances in technology, the functional use of a tohu and the relationship of the client and their requirements. Despite the need to tune down the visual aesthetic to spare Instagram pixels, there must be a purpose to each present form, the nature of each stroke, the narrative of the colour, and it needs to be grown from our whenua. This means that finding the middle ground will require conversation, patience and partnership between everyone within the project.

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Equal Mana 

As well as acknowledging our own strengths, we need to acknowledge the strengths that each person brings to the tēpu. Whether that be a fabrication or architectural understanding, or the client and their values and aspirations, or indeed the needs of a committee or diverse group we are unfamiliar with. We need to hold true to our understanding. But also acknowledge that there is always a solution relevant to all expectations at the table. This will mean challenging our thinking, allowing us to be even more creative and problem-solve in the development process.

We need to acknowledge that there is an opportunity within this process to listen, empathise, and most importantly educate. Many have not been exposed to this process and are looking for direction on how to engage. Meeting collaboratively with the intention to inspire as equal partners is the key to a successful project. This provides ample opportunity for growth. Respect and equal mana for all at the table, respect for naivety, fear, unknown, and other whakapapa.

kaitiaki kaitiaki

GSM would like to thank Morgan Mathews-Hale for providing her thoughts to us for Rākau Kōrero.
If you would like to continue this discussion on culture please contact

This article was originally published in GSM21. To read this and other great articles purchase this issue here.