Arpége Taratoa’s exposure to the art world has been rich, her critical and creative thinking cultivated in her father’s studio. Working as the Māori Arts Intern for Creative BOP and Te Tuhi Mareikura Trust, and Creative Director for Wakatu Incorporation, Arpége brings a wealth of experience and passion to what she does.
Your occupation, job title, artistic discipline (or very brief description of what you do):
I am currently the MAI Intern for Creative Bay of Plenty and Te Tuhi Mareikura Trust and a Creative Director for Wakatu Incorporation in Nelson. We have been working on a collective biography for 3 years now and are about to go to print. My background is in fine arts, I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts (honours) from Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Māori Visual Arts. I was a lecturer at NZTC prior to having my son, and have worked for Wakatu since, as well as curatorial work for Tauranga Art Gallery, personal art projects and for Julie Paama-Pengelly at Art + Body Creative Studio.
What cities/towns have you lived in (or spent more than a few months in) beginning with the place of your birth?
I was born in Hamilton, but raised in Palmerston North since I was one. I began my studies at Massey University, then transferred to Elam in Auckland for my fourth year. I stayed in Auckland for 3 years, completing my 5 years of studies, working and starting a family there. After having my son, I moved to Rotorua for a year, and finally to Tauranga to be close to my family (as they have all been here a lot longer than I have!)
What are the earliest stories you remember hearing? The ones that told you about the world?
I’m not sure there’s a particular story I have in my mind, but my dad used to tell us stories in bed at night time which were really elaborate and imaginative. I loved that he wouldn’t read a book, and my siblings and I would close our eyes and go on crazy adventures with him. I think that from a young age my imagination was cultivated, and I always knew I wanted to keep that as an adult, just like my dad.
What’s your favourite Bay of Plenty landscape, park, building, location, suburb, or side street? Why?
1000% Mauao and any view from there. I moved here after my ex-husband and I separated, and I found the climb extremely healing. This place felt more like home than the town I spent most of my life (Palmerston North), and I think that’s because it is where I whakapapa to – there isn’t anywhere quite like the place your tūpuna lived and cultivated. Walking the Mount always makes me feel extremely connected – to the land, to my ancestors, and to myself. It’s a beautiful place to give perspective, seeing the ocean stretching out, and the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Overall, no matter how I feel going up, I always come back down feeling better.
What’s an average day in your life at present?
Exercise is really important to me for my mental health, but my lifestyle doesn’t always allow for it. So I’ve started beginning my day with yoga and breathwork. Then I get myself and my boy ready for the day. Daycare run and a coffee from Excelso Coffee in Tauranga if time allows. I work either at The Kollective or the Te Tuhi Mareikura offices in the Mount. Then, if I can, I go to the gym and pick up my son from daycare. We do dinner and family time, and then in the evenings I’ll do a bit of evening yoga, some work and a puzzle to wind down. I like to watch Master Chef and (guiltily) The Bachelorette/Bachelor in Paradise (I need something mind-numbing to shut off my brain).
You’re currently interning with Te Tuhi Mareikura Trust and Creative BOP. What do you value most about the arts in the Bay, and what can we as a sector do to advance its progress?
I love the artists we have here in the Bay, there are so many talented individuals, and it is so culturally rich. I do have to say, growing up close to Wellington and then living in Auckland (and, of course, having an artist for a father), my exposure to the art world was super rich. So moving here, I think we have a way to go as a city to really liven up our art scene. Both of those cities are so diverse and are filled with artistic experiences everywhere you go. Art and culture make the world sing, and so, as a sector, I think we have a real opportunity to make art a must see experience here in the bay, particularly as we have the beautiful environment around us to draw inspiration from.
What music was present and still memorable from your youth/adolescence?
Wow, this is an interesting one. My “musical education,” as my dad put it, was really eclectic! There wasn’t one genre that we listened to because my dad had such an array of music. My mum loved some of the queens of music, so I’ve kept her musical taste in my cleaning playlist. Nothing beats a good Ruby Turner, Anita Baker or Toni Braxton tune when you’re cleaning!
Dad – a purest, refused to let us listen to the ‘rubbish’ on the radio, so I’m embarrassed to say that a lot of the hits during my teens, I don’t know the lyrics to!
For you as a creative person, who are three influential artists or thinkers?
Firstly my Dad, Kelcy Taratoa. Growing up, I really valued the way he pushed my thinking, and my creative thinking. It was in his studio that I cultivated my critical thinking, and started turning social/political issues into art. I think he’s extremely talented, and his passion for art is inspiring. I love the way he teaches, and how dedicated he is to researching and learning. I have definitely been shaped and inspired by his example.
Controversially, Frederick Nietzsche. I love some of his philosophies on life, particularly that of the camel, lion, and child. I also love how he challenges the concepts of good and evil.
Dr Linda Tuhiwai-Smith – she is AMAZING. The way she writes and talks about New Zealand History – it should be in the school curriculum. If you haven’t read her book Decolonizing Methodologies – it’s a must!
If you went away from the Bay of Plenty for a long time and then came back, what are the first three things you would do or visit?
The Mount, the beach and Eddie’s & Elspeth!
Looking back at your teen-age self: what one sentence describes that person?
She was trying her best, but trying too hard and forgetting to be present.
If you had to eat the same meal every day, what would it be?
Anything Vietnamese. I love fresh, Asian flavours (but it would have to vegetarian or seafood because I don’t eat meat).
In one sentence, can you define art?
Art is the portal through which we enter other worlds, cross the spaces in time of past, present and future, and experience the full potential of human experience.
What is missing or lacking from your Bay of Plenty community or environment?
Culture! I want to see more visibility of Māori arts and culture recognized and valued here.
Name a few films that you consider profound, moving or extraordinary?
A Time to Kill – I watched this in English in high school and nothing has quite hit me so hard. It was so layered, so many issues in one film and it had some top notch actors. No film has stuck with me for so long.
Cousins – from the very opening when you hear te reo being spoken on screen, I was in tears. It really reflects the different types of realities there are for Māori growing up in NZ. It was so well done and an amazing NZ film.
Last Letter from Your Lover – I am a hopeless romantic, and I haven’t seen a romance film since The Notebook that has had me reeeeally feeling it. This was so good! Highly recommend.
What was your first real job, second, third?
I worked at McDonald’s during high school, and then when I started uni I worked at gyms. I worked at different gyms across Palmerston North and Auckland while I studied until I started lecturing.
Where would you like to live, but have yet to?
Vietnam! After visiting two years ago, I would 100% live there for a year or two! It has a piece of my heart.
What word of advice would you offer an aspiring creative person?
Accept that it is a challenging path, but know that you passion and devotion to that passion is what will ensure you live a life you never regret.
What’s the biggest problem about life in New Zealand? How you would solve it?
I think we live in a county that is in denial about its history. The unfortunate truth is that many are comfortable living in a sense of security that comes from not being aware of our history. The rest are suffering under a system that does not serve them. Our education system needs to commit to critically analyzing the truth of our past, and teaching our young ones how to make more effective, equitable movements forward.
What is your dream of happiness?
I think happiness comes from within. So I hope I can live a life that reflects me as I evolve, where I listen to my inner voice and follow my truth. That way I will always be living a passionate, full and happy life.