Mahi Toi: Tai Timu, Graham Tipene


Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei creative, Graham Tipene is making a mark in the way Tāmaki Makaurau looks and feels through mahi toi.

One of his latest pieces, Tai Timu, adorns the entrance to AECOM House in Te Tōangaroa and captures a significant piece of history through its depiction of the original Auckland CBD shoreline (in pink), and the current shoreline (in blue) that we know and see today. The LED lights incorporated in this particular piece allows the opportunity for real time engagement with the tidal activity at Te Tōangaroa which sees a dark blue light at low tide and light blue at high tide.

Graham shares that the inspiration behind Tai Timu came from wanting to tell the story of this historical landscape in a futuristic way. He did this by using resources which are readily available to us now “to create Māori design thinking through different mediums”. Examples of these resources used include L.E.D lights, neon lights and timers.

“I wanted to have a human connection back to our moana in the space where our moana used to flow. Where Tai Timu is situated is where the ocean once was.”

Graham (Ngāti Whātua, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Haua, Ngāti Manu) is also a Tā Moko artist who says it should represent whakapapa and connection to the land and people. He brings a similar approach to his work as a consultant and lead artist on many civic and Council-led projects throughout Tāmaki Makaurau.

When asked how long he has been an artist for, Graham says that’s like asking him how long he has been a human.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is draw. I can remember at an early age my mother pushing me into what she could see I was passionate about. It was art.”

Graham talks about growing up in Tamaki in the 80s, there wasn’t much Māori design that he could identify as “us”. He wanted to change this and have Māori work everywhere – not just in museums.

“We are part of this landscape; let’s put our cultural expressions through design everywhere we can.”

His portfolio of public artwork is extensive but he recalls a taurapa he designed for Onehunga Library as being one of his first works. Other notable mentions included the Taurama waharoa on Queen Street, a large waharoa at Silo Park that is on display during Matariki, along Tamaki Drive there’s signage that highlights sites of significance and is interactive. He shares a couple of favourite projects he has worked on including a downpipe at Wynyard Quarter, the Tirohanga Whānui bridge panels that his son reminds him of every time they drive past, and of course the entrance to the Auckland Museum which is a representation of his mum and great grandmother.

Tai Timu has been a talking point for those in AECOM House as well as for many visitors – including our tamariki from the Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei holiday programme. This is an indication of how Graham’s mahi is sharing our matauranga and purakau, and he hopes it will one day reach kids he will never meet.