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My River Goes With Me: Johnson Witehira & Huhana Smith in conversation

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Join Dr Johnson Witehira (Ngāpuhi, Tamahaki) in conversation with Dr Huhana Smith (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga) to discuss My River Goes With Me, a collaboration between Witehira and Winnipeg-based Julie Nagam (Métis, German, Syrian). Together they have created an immersive experience featuring imagery from both artists’ tūrangawaewae highlighting the life-giving qualities of water as a metaphor and unifying element to bridge geographical distance and cultural tradition.

Their rivers play an important role in this work, which is depicted as a kōwhaiwhai watercourse moving around the gallery space. Witehira draws on the deep connection he shares with the Whanganui River, the first body of water in Aotearoa recognised as a person. Nagam references two interconnected waterways, the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, which come together in the heart of Winnipeg, in the Manitoba territory of Canada.

Dr Johnson Witehira is a leading indigenous artist, designer and researcher. His design projects consider how customary Māori knowledge and ways of thinking can be applied in contemporary settings. His creative works extend across designed communications, digital, interiors, urban design, product design and public artworks. He is co-creative director at Indigenous Design and Innovation Aotearoa (IDIA) he applies his design expertise to work with businesses, community groups, and government agencies. Within academia Witehira’s research focuses on decolonizing design education. He is at the forefront of developing bi-cultural and Māori responses to teaching art and design in Aotearoa.

Dr Huahana Smith is a visual artist, curator and principle investigator in research who engages in major environmental, trans-disciplinary, kaupapa Māori and action-research projects. She is co-principle investigator for research that includes mātauranga Māori methods with sciences to actively address climate change concerns for coastal Māori lands in Horowhenua-Kāpiti. Smith actively encourages the use of art and design’s visual systems combined in exhibitions, to expand how solutions might integrate complex issues and make solutions more accessible for local communities.