Marle Women is created to celebrate our philosophy of designing pieces for women of all ages and stages of their lives. Each feature profiles a woman we admire and we hope each interview inspires you the same way in which these women inspire us.
We recently sat down with Indigenous artist, Nikau Hindin who is reviving the ancient art of making aute (Māori barkcloth or tapa cloth), all the while carving out a name for herself both in Aotearoa and globally.
In the midst of installing her new exhibition Manu Aute: Rere Runga Hau at Seasons Aotearoa, Nikau shares with us the inspiration behind her practice, what she hopes people feel when they see her work and how her style of art invites consciousness into her everyday.
Kia ora Nikau, nō hea koe?
Kia ora! He uri ahau no te Hokianga Whakapau Karakia. Ko Ngāpuhi, ko Te Rarawa ngā iwi. Ko Ngai Tūpoto te hapū. Ko Ngahuia te wahine rangatira. My whakapapa Māori connects me to the beautiful body of water known as the Hokianga, in the far North. My iwi are Ngāpuhi and Te Rarawa. My hapū is Ngai Tūpoto. I come from the ancestress Ngahuia and I am a Harris on my father's side. On my mum’s side I am Swiss- French, Latvian Jew and Pākehā and my last name, Hindin, comes from my ancestors fleeing the Russian Revolution as Jews then moving through France to London.
Please share a little bit more about yourself, your upbringing and any defining moments that lead you to where you are today.
I grew up in Tamaki Makaurau. I am a product of Kohanga Reo and Rumaki Reo schooling. I was in Te Whānau o te Uru Karaka, at Newton Primary School where I was immersed in my culture and reo. We also learned about colonisation and critical histories of Aotearoa, so I was politicised from a young age. Queer Māori futures was the norm growing up but its only in the last five years that I’ve seen people become open to alternative ways of living in relation with each other and the environment. I think being aware from a young age made me pretty decisive about what felt right and what didn’t.
My mum is a clothes designer and I grew up sitting on the cutting table, playing with pattern weights, surrounded by rolls of fabric. This is probably where my love for textiles and natural fibres came from. My nana was a painter and she used to make me illustrated books with her handmade paper. I used to paint and draw a lot with my nana from a young age.
I went to Elam School of Fine Arts and I did a BA in Māori Studies and Film Studies at Auckland Uni. The classes that really made sense to me were the Stone Tool Making papers with Dante Bonica. I loved the slow labour intensive processes of working with natural materials like stone and wood. It was meaningful to work in the ways that our ancestors did and I gained a lot of confidence to make art grounded in my Māori values and world view.
You’ve been practicing as a full time artist for less than three years and in that time, have exhibited in Japan, Paris, Canada, Nepal and New Zealand. How does it feel to do what you love?
I am grateful that I can be a cultural practitioner and a full time artist. Balancing these two roles can be challenging but I try to be a better ancestor every year. It is really incredible that I’ve had so many opportunities to exhibit overseas. I learned so much going over to Japan, learning about their culture and being exposed to other artists and ways of working. Since Covid I’ve been focused on our local art community but as the world is opening up it is interesting to consider how my practice might also open up to wider audiences and how I might do this appropriately.
As an observer, the mana and the ngākau is so evident in your work. The practice of aute requires patience and your detailed star maps explore the Māori concepts of time and space – has your work always been inspired by mātauranga Māori or is this something that has become more evident over time?
The art I create reflects my Māori worldview. I’ve always made decisions that prioritise my value system and that is how I came to work with aute and work with a cultural practice that relies on an intimate relationship with the environment. Our people were master observers of the cycles and patterns of the natural world and doing this practice gives me a small insight into how their making processes would have driven their daily tasks.
What do you hope people see, feel and think when they view your new show Manu Aute: Rere Runga Hau?
We’ve just installed at Season Gallery and it signals a transition in my practice as I begin to explore manu aute, kites made of aute. It reflects nine years of dreaming about making kites and it is exciting to finally arrive. My practice is about the revival of aute, Māori barkcloth and imagining a future where our culture is thriving. It is about bringing the past here and taking the present forward. I hope when people see my work they think about how our ancestors mastered plant technology. The transformation of bark to cloth continues to astound me. When making these kites the aute came together naturally as though it wanted to be folded and held together to catch wind.
At Marle, we start our design process first with the natural fibres and from there, we form our design brief and draw what the garment might end up like. Talk us through your process.
The process of making aute starts with the cultivation of the plant. If your plants have been well cared for the processing becomes much easier! I cut the aute at the base of a young tree and then remove the bark by making a slit lengthways and peeling it off. Then I peel off the dark outer bark so I’m left with the inner fleshy bark. I scrape and scrape the peha, inner bark, til it is super soft and then start beating it with my beater using a specific side. It transforms from a thick and skinny inner bark to a thin and wide white cloth. It is so satisfying and this is just the first beat! Once it is dried I can then soak it again and rett the fibres. Then I beat it again and the texture changes once again. It becomes a bit more stiff like papery fabric. Finally I paint them with natural pigments harvested from the earth. The pieces in this show I made with my apprentice Rongomai and we harvested the trees in February. We did the second beating in May and it is now October and they have been adorned and made into kites. It is a long process but I love it.
The art of aute leans into the concept of slow and conscious living, a value we hold dearly at Marle. How do you invite consciousness into your everyday?
I love this question. I’m lucky that I work with natural materials and by default that puts you into a mindset of gathering, harvesting, processing and slowing down. I can’t go to the store to buy my paints or my cloth, I make everything and I am at the whim of the materials themselves and their agenda.
I live close to the ocean and I walk everyday and I find that I learn a lot about our environment and moon cycles just by watching and tracking the changes I see in the weather and tide lines.
How would you describe your personal style and how has this evolved over the years?
I’m really lucky that I’ve grown up around beautiful well-made clothes and I’ve always had beautiful silk dresses, wool coats and things like that, at my fingertips. I think my style is more relaxed than it used to be and I try to be playful when I can.
Marle is designed to add effortless ease to a woman’s wardrobe, how does Marle support you through your days? How does wearing Marle make you feel?
Marle clothes are the kind of garments you wear and never want to take off. They have a softness and ease that makes me feel confident and comfortable but still luxurious.
What is your most treasured object and why?
Probably my whale tooth hei tiki that I wear around my neck everyday. It was carved by my teacher Rangi Kipa, he is, in my opinion, the best carver in Aotearoa. It reminds me to always strive for excellence, because that is what toi Māori is. The pursuit of the highest level of mastery.
Favourite home cooked meal?
I love fish, caught by my dad, fried with lots of butter. I also love rock oysters in the winter from the Hokianga.
Favourite thing to wear?
Possum merino anything. So cosy, soft and breathes! Also my Marle Loretta singlet! I haven’t taken it off!
Your non-negotiable daily rituals?
I walk my dog - every morning around 7am, then I have a delicious coffee at home and get started on my mahi. I work until I have to walk my dog in the evening!
Spring/Summer or Autumn/Winter?
Manu Aute: Rere Runga Hau, an exhibition of new works that grows out of Te Uru Aute, an apprenticeship programme with Nikau's teina Rongomai Grbic-Hoskins is now open at Seasons Aotearoa until 19 November, 2022.
Photography by Holly Sarah Burgess