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Published: 03 June 2022

By Andy Ross

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We are the Small Axe

We are the Small Axe - Robin White and Ruha Fifita, 2015.
Photo courtesy of Christchurch Art Gallery. 

Two artists, Robin White and Ruha Fifita, collaborate to create contemporary tapa cloths that bring together traditional design and pattern with stories, in this case, one of navigation. 

Tapa cloth is important in this region. It is used to protect, wrap and carry the body, and it has enormous cultural significance and importance. In 2015 the artists collaborated to create a five metre long tapa cloth with intricate designs and emblems on it that reflect travel and navigation across the ocean. In this piece, We are the Small Axe, a vaka - a type of traditional canoe, is alluded to in the central motif and this is filled with images, both traditional and contemporary. Along the edges of the piece are tuna - longfin eels - and flying fish, both of which are acting as guides to the vaka. Tuna have an amazing journey from Aotearoa New Zealand to Tonga, migrating along the Kermadec Trench, just as these artists are connected by their respective history and locations. 

This is not the artists' first piece together. In 2014/ 15, Ko e Hala Hangatonu: The Straight Path, was shown in Porirua City near Wellington. This is an even bigger work and you can see it and other pieces from the show as well as photographs of the artists on this page.