Priscilla Cowie - Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu

Priscilla Cowie

It’s important to make sure that our culture is visible, that Ngāi Tahu are visible within our spaces and our environment, in the new buildings that we create within the city.

…it’s a great opportunity to share some of our kōrero, and that’s important for our tamariki and our whānau to come.

My mum is from Ngāpuhi and Ngāti Kahu.

The reo that I speak is a Ngāpuhi reo and that’s a big influence on who I am as a person and my identity. I’m also Ngāi Tahu and I was raised in Te Waipounamu. A lot of my mahi at the moment is focussed on my Ngāi Tahu whakapapa and that’s the kaupapa that drives me.

Mahinga Kai

I started becoming interested in tuna when we moved to Tāhuna-roa (Pines Beach) and we started having opportunities to get involved in eeling.

It was an exciting time; it was a great way to connect back with our whenua, with being in Te Waipounamu, with being Ngāi Tahu.

I was excited by the opportunities that created for our tamariki. That they could be involved in eeling, just seeing that, it started to show up in my work.

I suppose my role as an artist is that I want to acknowledge and elevate whakanui, to honour our kai, our ika, our eels within our waterways. My way of doing that is creating art.

This (New Zealand) is the only place in the world that you will see a long-fin tuna.

Mahinga Tuna

The works that I’ve created for Wanaka were inspired by seeing Matisse cutouts and the potential of how you can create artworks with a few cuts.

…some people get quite grossed out by tuna but I think they’re quite beautiful.

This work started off as a calligraphy drawing. It forces you to have a level of accuracy but to do it quickly and swiftly, and I thought that captures the movement of the tuna. I was trying to maintain the energy of, and the movement, of the calligraphy.

There’s a real beauty to them. You know some people get quite grossed out by tuna but I think they’re quite beautiful. I like the way they move, and just that kind of quick movement that’s what I wanted to start capturing in my work.

…my intention or my hope is that our tamariki will be strong and unique like our tuna; know who they are and where they’re from, be part of this whenua … that they can also always travel out, into the world … and always come home.

Ngāi Tahu Aesthetic

I’ve heard a kōrero of late… a Ngāi Tahu aesthetic…

Wigram Skies

Because of the connection to Wigram Skies we’re looking at birds or association to flight.

I wanted to acknowledge the life that would have been around the area.

This was a place where our whānau would come and stay. Tamariki would have been around. I wanted to acknowledge the kites and the playful aspects of whānau being together.

We also wanted to represent the pīwakawaka (fantail) … the playful nature and aspect of the pīwakawaka.

The Landing

…kurī was brought over with our tīpuna. They are a companion, also a good hunter, and a taonga … they’re quite significant to our people and to be respected.


My whānau, kaumātua and iwi Ngāi Tahu have enabled me to pursue my passion, and living in ngā mahi ā toi.

I think it’s really important to acknowledge our tīpuna, our auta before I start my mahi. Without them I wouldn’t be here. I’m a reflection of them.

Without them I wouldn’t be here. I’m a reflection of them.