A Shift in Place

Cora-Allan talks with her Pāpā, Kelly Lafaiki
Emily Parr Encountering Aotearoa (still) 2023. Digital video, sound, 47 mins 38 secs. Courtesy of the artist

Emily Parr Encountering Aotearoa (still) 2023. Digital video, sound, 47 mins 38 secs. Courtesy of the artist

After Encountering Aotearoa opened at Dunedin Public Art Gallery I spent time reflecting on whether I was happy with the body of work and how it conveyed the journey I had taken with my Pāpā and my relationship with the whenua.

Using whenua pigments to paint the works was a great honour and, when I saw the work installed, it felt overwhelming. The work itself was too big to view while I was painting it, so the first time I saw it truly together was when it was hung in the gallery. I felt satisfied with the show, I was happy.

Then, after the 2023 elections I felt a shift in my place as tangata whenua in Aotearoa. I was encountering an Aotearoa that I could see would undo and put at risk many things that I find important. As Waitangi Day drew near, new works were beginning to flow out of the studio and I decided they would join Encountering Aotearoa in Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

Before seeing the new works installed and the new layout of the exhibition, I wanted to know what Pāpā thought of the original show. Here are some of his thoughts and experiences from our journey.

Emily Parr Daily Reflections with Papa and CA (still) 2023. Digital video, sound, 49 mins 18 secs. Courtesy of the artist

Emily Parr Daily Reflections with Papa and CA (still) 2023. Digital video, sound, 49 mins 18 secs. Courtesy of the artist

Cora-Allan: What do you think about the work in Encountering Aotearoa?

Kelly Lafaiki: The work is so good, so easy for people to understand. Especially Islanders when looking at the hiapo patterns. The clouds could be improved, but the framing of the work changes the pieces and makes them look so good. Someone rich should buy the works! Although actually, I think an institution should buy them, so they can be shared with everyone instead of putting them in a private collection. People would love to see the works from this show.

Cora-Allan: What are some of the works that you remember from the show?

Kelly: My diaries. It was the first time I had done that sort of thing and I enjoyed using colours that represented the colours you see in Aotearoa. I like the videos – the way we were talking was funny – and the last panel in the large painting, which was first sketched in the Albatross Centre. The hanging hiapo banners are great too. I really enjoyed working with Emily [Parr], she was able to find our rhythm and shot some really good video. We were lucky to have her with us.

Cora-Allan: Was there a particular day you enjoyed on the trip?

Kelly: The day we went to Rakiura Stewart Island. It was the most beautiful spot! We walked into the township but didn’t expect to have to walk back at the end of our visit and had to run to the ship. It was beautiful to see boats hanging out and the water surrounding the area. I think it would be a nice lifestyle down there away from the busyness of town.

Cora-Allan : What day was your hardest?

Kelly: Well, it wasn’t a hard day… but I ate too much after a hard hike in the morning and had to sleep. I loved the variety of food on board and every meal was delicious and exciting. I enjoyed all the events – I am so happy we did it together.

Emily Parr Daily Reflections with Papa and CA (still) 2023. Digital video, sound, 49 mins 18 secs. Courtesy of the artist

Emily Parr Daily Reflections with Papa and CA (still) 2023. Digital video, sound, 49 mins 18 secs. Courtesy of the artist

Cora-Allan: Did you enjoy your support role?

Kelly: I didn’t really know what to expect, so I went with the flow – I got into the rhythm of writing stuff down and making sure I paid attention to the schedule each day. You work pretty long hours, and you were in residency mode which means you can work till midnight and wake up at 5am. That suited me because I woke up at 5am every morning and called my sweetheart and drank three cups of coffee before the sun was up.

Cora-Allan: Do you think I needed someone with me?

Kelly: Yes, you did. Someone to talk to if something went wrong. Like the first day when we were mucking around with the life jackets – we were both doing the wrong thing and it was nice to be able to have a laugh and make mistakes together. I think you need someone to assist with your art materials and someone that is there for small talk when you have ideas. I have gotten used to listening to your art talk and enjoy offering advice where I can.

Cora-Allan: How did your preparation for the trip go?

Kelly: I had plenty of stationery for my diaries, I had my gear ready for different weather and I enjoyed riding on the Zodiacs when we left the main boat. After a while we got into a pattern getting ready for each day, making sure we packed our bags before breakfast to ensure we were fast.

Cora-Allan: How did you feel about the daily activities?

Kelly: Each day was something new. The schedule was always full, so we just had to get used to the things we needed to take, and take the opportunity to make art, create videos with Emily and make sure we were paying attention to our surroundings. The boat moved along the coast so fast our view was always changing and that felt special.

Cora-Allan: What about your experience at Waitangi?

Kelly: Leading the group in as the ‘chief’ was so cool! Watching the Waitangi Day events this year felt more surreal now knowing I had done that. I had never done anything like that before so I was scared. I was shaking and the young lady told me to relax and that I’d be okay. I had been on heaps of marae but not this important one, and not doing something this special. People fought for the land and Māori are still fighting for their rights, so it was an important place to be. Russell was really interesting to learn about too – I didn’t know how rough it used to be. You bought an Endeavour replica from the museum there and people were so surprised when you picked it up and walked out, they thought you were stealing it!

Papa on Ahauhu 2023. Photo: Fiona Wardle

Papa on Ahauhu 2023. Photo: Fiona Wardle

Cora-Allan: Do you think I would have painted the same works after experiencing this new government?

Kelly: I don’t think so. Māori have always had to fight for their rights against the government and when I see works like the flag you painted, I recognise that you are standing up for what you are proud of. You love being Māori and from Niue and you are very proud of both your whakapapa. You already paint from your heart; you are good at painting Niue patterns and using the whenua.

Cora-Allan: Which culture do you think my work reflects the most?

Kelly: You paint Niue patterns and use Māori materials and stories in your work. It is both of your cultures. The amount of colour that you make from the earth, especially on the large work is amazing. You have to make sure that you test the paints to make sure they don’t come off the wood panels too. You understand the materials very well and celebrate their brightness.

Cora-Allan: If we do another trip, what would you enjoy?

Kelly: Any trip would be great as long as I am with family – if you’re with family you are okay. If you go with friends I’m not too sure... But with family any trip would be great. I would do another diary and would take a small printer so I can print my photos to add in immediately.

Cora-Allan: Would you like to make any comments about the show or your wonderful artist daughter?

Kelly: Hahaha, I think she is on the right track, she just needs to keep on going and to keep her focus with her work. I think she can go even bigger in scale. I can’t wait till she is showing this type of work overseas – it needs to be shared with the world.


Cora-Allan interviewed her pāpā Kelly Lafaiki in March 2024.

5 June 2024


Cora-Allan is a multidisciplinary artist of Maori and Niuean descent, originally from Waitakere.