24 Jun 2024

Mural paints picture of Porirua’s cultural identity

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Blending vibrant blues and greens, Liana Leiataua gets to work on her mural in Waitangirua.

Just like the colours on her palette, Liana’s artwork itself takes shape as a swirling symbol of connection – of past and future, physical and spiritual. At its centre, a grassy mountain landscape also signifies the aspirations of her eastern Porirua community. Koru fronds curl up from the sides and represent the area’s growth.

Patterns and designs of all colours and shades continue across their café-wall canvas, threading together to form one unified artwork. So why are these connections so important, and what exactly is it that ties them all together?

“My cultural identity is really important to me, and it’s important in how we interact with other cultures,” Liana says.

At the mural’s centre stands a woman, Ukaipo. According to legend, she was known for providing care, kai and shelter for travellers passing through the region, Liana says. So in this artwork, she is represented through outstretched arms of whero, reaching the peak of the mountain as if holding this place together.

“The ultimate thing for me is that there’s this aroha, this love, and that’s what holds everything together. That’s the inspiration for my artwork – it’s the love of my cultures that I want to express through my work.”

Born to a Samoan father and Scottish mother, Liana says both cultures shared similarly strong ideals despite being separated by 15,000 kilometres of land and sea. Clan values from Scotland and aiga – or family – in Samoan, blended and became rooted in Liana’s identity as she grew up in the Porirua home her parents purchased in the 1960s.

“Dad ran a Four Square here for 20 years at Astrolabe Food Market. It had Spacies, so it was quite popular with everyone,” she says with a laugh.

While others tried to top the Space Invaders high score, Liana’s pastime was always art – dancing, drawing, acting and singing. And as she developed her talents, her cultural identity and those family values also grew to include her community.

“Porirua is a turangawaewae for me because I was brought up here and this community has really shaped me, has really formed me, so I seem to have that coming through my art,” Liana says.

Perhaps it was meant to be, then, when Liana visited a community event hosted by Josie Olsen and the two had a chance meeting.

Josie is the face of Oasis Community Café in Waitangirua, though the space is much more than its name suggests – Oasis goes far beyond selling coffee and pastries, providing programmes, activities and services aimed at benefitting the individuals who take part and the community as a whole.

“We have had thousands of people over the years visit our centre and receive support, kai and care as they need it,” Josie says.

“When I met Liana through this event, she was very excited to hear about our work and felt she wanted to support it in some way.”

So when Josie mentioned she had been looking for someone to create a mural for Oasis “that would reflect what we were about”, Liana jumped at the opportunity.

The result is that symbol of connection, past and future, physical and spiritual. It is those koru fronds and grassy mountainside of aspiration. It is also a creation of the community it represents.

“When I was working on this, people would approach me and ask questions or give information about the history of this place, so it’s a real communal process,” Josie says.

Similar discussions are also how her community can make sure its aspirations are known as Te Rā Nui – Eastern Porirua Development grows, Liana says.

“I think what’s important for the community is that the dialogue continues throughout the process … Te Rā Nui partners are doing their best in working with the community, so now the community needs to stay engaged.

“We can really make a change and it’s for all of us.”

Liana says her community’s strong sense of identity and togetherness will be what makes Te Rā Nui a success.

“That’s what I love about Porirua – it’s an aroha. We have our rough moments, as any big family does, but at the same time we look after each other.

“It’s going to be even more amazing.”

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