Areta Wilkinson and Toro Atua: Unlocking Stories of Place

By Warren Feeney

In partnership with the Selwyn District Council and the Rolleston Residents’ Association, SCAPE Public Art has been engaged to bring to fruition a new permanent and major public artwork by Arts Foundation Laureate, Dr Areta Wilkinson’s (Ngāi Tahu) Toro Atua, for the Rolleston Town Centre.
Wilkinson described Toro Atua as a contemporary work with ancestral and wellbeing associations, its light-reflecting stainless-steel figures mounted on tall poles, sharing its aesthetic with Te Waipounamu rock art and the ancestry of Ngāi Tahu.

So, where did Wilkinson’s ambitions to engage with making public art come from? She recalls that it began working with sculptor Graham Bennett.
“We did the Bridge to Nowhere a concept for the North Frame. That was when I started being braver to venture into public art. After that work, I collaborated on a proposal concept for Parliament grounds, and then 18 months ago I made the proposal to SCAPE for Toro Atua. “Succeeding to Detailed Design Stage, it became Deborah McCormick’s final work with SCAPE. She has since stepped down as Executive Director, but has continued with the project as part of SCAPE’s transition to its new leadership working with Richard Aindow.

“Tied up with the whole development of the new town centre, Selwyn District Council has a strong relationship with mana whenua (customary authority exercised by hapu in an identified area). There is something going on out at Selwyn that is exciting and has vision. Selwyn Mayor, Sam Broughton’s willingness as a partner with Ngāi Te Ruahikhiki set the model with Te Ara Ātea, its library in Rolleston. It is not a mono-cultural narrative, you can see it playing out in the building’s fabric and its public spaces, and you can even see it in the planted surrounds.”

So, what are Wilkinson’s ambitions for the outcomes for Toro Atua? “Public art can unlock understandings of stories of place. With Toro Atua there are three groups of figures that may move people through the sites to inform them. It is my first public sculpture; it is a big one and it’s meaningful. If we get things in balance then everybody will be uplifted by it.”

IMAGE: Areta Wilkinson, Toro Atua, 2023, artist impression. Image by Georgina Stokes.

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