The conceptualisation of the installation resides in the whakatauki (proverb): “te kohao o te ngira.” A well known proverb spoken by the first Māori King, Pōtatau Te Wherowhero, this message of unity and holding fast to ideals and principles is one the education provider ascribes to. It refers to the philosophy of everyone passing through the eye of the needle to reach their destination - in this case, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and it’s principles, values and ideals. This installation was commissioned by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, one of NZ’s largest providers of tertiary education.
As Michael designed the installation and worked alongside other artists and kaumātua (elders) at the organization, he created each of the niho (teeth) to relate to an aspect of learning. The black niho shows a manaia (guardian) with a stylized hand above it, which represents the individual being handed knowledge from above.
The taratara-ā-kai pattern on the red niho refers to another whakatauki: “Ko te manu e kai ana te mātauranga, nōnā te ao – those who feast on knowledge, theirs is the world.” The way that the pattern is woven together alludes to the individual gathering together the morsels of knowledge on their learning journey.
The white niho is a stylized form of a tree—representing the individual growing taller into the light of knowledge, striving and reaching for the attainment of understanding and wisdom.
Because the form of the three works could be said to be tooth-like, the installation has come to be known as “niho” meaning teeth.
Image: Mangakōtukutuku campus Glenview, Hamilton