Maori Artist Showcase - Clay Artist, Stevei Houkamau


Ko Pātangata ko Whetūmatarau tōku maunga
Ko Wharekahika ko Awatera tōku awa
Ko Horouta tōku waka
Ko Hinemaurea ko Hinerupe tōku marae
Ko Tuwhakairiora tōku whānau
Ko Ngāti Porou tōku iwi

Stevei was born and raised in Porirua, a descendant of Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui and Rangitāne with a father from Scotland. She spent much of her early and adult life playing representative softball for New Zealand and after returning from a stint living in the US, post the events of 9/11, was initially employed in immigration. Then Stevei decided to take a total 360 in life. In 2011 she enrolled in the esteemed Māori visual art and design college Toihoukura to do a bachelor of Māori visual arts. Her original intention was to enter the Tā Moko Program, however life took yet another turn; after a wānanga with Wi Taepa, Baye Riddle and the late Manos Nathan, Stevei developed a love for uku (clay).


She says ‘I had to find a way for both of my passions to co exist. When I was told a story that Papatūānuku wore the first form of Tā Moko (cracks in the earth) I found my calling. I started to use clay like it was skin and my carving tools are my tattoo machine or uhi. If I am doing slab work that references the body then I approach it as if I am approaching a person. If I am doing 3d sculptural work which is coiled and hand built then I look at how I can suggest curves and create lines that can accentuate the form I have created. This is the same approach that a moko or tatau artist has when drawing up on a client.’


Of her art Stevei says ‘I have worked extremely hard to hone my craft but also to find my own unique style and to keep pushing the boundaries and stay true to my beliefs. To find my own voice and stick to that. Growing up in Porirua and Cannons Creek you are influenced by your environment and also the beliefs taught to you, and my biggest hope is to continue to express these influences through my work.’


Today Stevei is a practising artist and member of Ngā Kaihanga Uku - Māori Clay Collective and is a curator for Kura Gallery in Wellington. She says ‘My dream is to move into tattooing and also still work in clay at the same time. Although they are totally separate mediums, clean vs ‘dirty’, the approach I have and how I use clay allows me to practise the same principles in both mediums. Using the clay and understanding shapes and forms also helps me to understand the body in a unique way. I would love to become a full time artist and I would also love to go home to the East Coast and help to teach the traditions of Ipu Whenua helping Marae to create ipu whenua banks and resources so that whānau can return to the marae with the placentas of their new born babies and learn or partake in the traditional process of burying the placenta back into Papa.’

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