It took half a decade, but artist Wendy Hannah has brought together an ambitious project that has created an installation the size of a bus - and brought many tamariki along for the ride.
After five years and tens of thousands of contributions - Wendy Hannah has finally seen her vision realised.
“It all started as a dream and this week it was realised. I encourage all artists to follow their path. As my mother said, ‘See where the kaupapa takes you and never settle for less’.”
That unwavering belief and commitment has produced Liberty - Herekoretanga, an installation the size of a bus (26m x 8m) - with 31,872 camellia flowers made from recycled bottles to form a giant chandelier unveiled at Botany Town Centre on Tuesday (19 September).
Those numbers aren't just impressive - they're hugely significant and established both a rigid deadline and tally to work towards.
The artwork is designed to signify and commemorate 130 years of women’s suffrage - where white camellias were a symbol for suffragists to give to their parliamentary supporters to wear in the House to show their support for women’s rights. In all, 31,872 signatures were delivered to Parliament that on 19 September 1893 saw New Zealand become the first country in the world to give women the equal right to vote.
And 130 years to the day later - with one flower to represent each crucial signature - Hannah got to share her tribute with her community, celebrating the achievements of women and embracing the beauty of diversity and the importance of environmental awareness.
Before it became a large-scale homage to Aotearoa New Zealand's world-leading suffrage heroines, it all started with - as Hannah states - a dream.
Back in 2018, East-Auckland artist Hannah (European, Ngāti Awa, and Te Arawa descent) began the Camellia Project NZ, which has seen her visit schools and community groups throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, running workshops to make camellia flowers from recycled drink bottles and talking about the history of women’s rights in New Zealand, alongside the importance of recycling and reducing waste.
Over the course of five years, those 32,872 flowers represent more than just the suffragists' tribute - they represent the gift of creativity, the feeling of being part of a bigger picture, an understanding of Aotearoa's history and the importance of sustainability and recycling being passed on to tens of thousands of young New Zealanders.
Toipoto alumni Hannah reflects, “Liberty-Herekoretanga serves as a poignant reminder of the accomplishments and ongoing struggles of women, while also advocating for sustainable practices and environmental consciousness.
It stands as a powerful symbol of empowerment, diversity, and unity - inspiring viewers to embrace the past, celebrate the present, and work towards a brighter and more inclusive future.
“The use of recycled bottles in Liberty-Herekoretanga emphasises the significance of sustainability and the need for responsible consumption. By repurposing discarded materials, the installation draws attention to the importance of recycling and reducing waste, while also highlighting the potential for beauty and creativity in recycled objects.
“My influence is ecological and political themes, and I am interested in community and the humanistic approach to life. I think art has the ability to make change as it is a gentle way to communicate from a basic level of understanding.”
Hannah's creation was welcomed into the public eye - where it will hang and catch the light in Botany Town Centre's Pavillion for the next year - with performances from 55 members of the Wakaaranga Primary School kapa haka group and performer Taisha Tari, as well as a karakia that Hannah and her mother wrote, which was performed by Wendy's niece Romaiye Lowen.
It was also a special moment for those who have supported the Camellia Project NZ from its infancy, including funders Arts Out East, Te Tuhi, and the Howick Local Board.
Hiraani Himona, Director of Te Tuhi, states “Te Tuhi and our arts brokerage, Arts Out East, are so pleased to have played a part in realising this incredible installation at Botany Town Centre. It has been wonderful to see so many people from East Auckland – especially the tamariki from Wakaaranga Primary School who sang with Taisha, but also people who took part in the Camellia Project workshops, and representatives from O Wairoa Marae in Howick – all come and celebrate with Wendy.”
Kerrie Hughes, Botany Town Centre centre manager adds "We expect the year-long exhibit to be a strong drawcard for visitors and a great conversation-starter for families teaching their young children about Aotearoa New Zealand’s history. We chose The Pavilion as the location because of its generous natural light and spaciousness, which will highlight the beauty of the 31,872 camellias.”