In early 2020 Ana Iti purchased a number of back-issue pages of Te Pipiwharauroa: he kupu whakamarama, a reo Māori newspaper in circulation between 1899 and 1913. Over the winter and during Tāmaki Makaurau’s two Covid-lockdown periods, Iti spent time with these texts, piecing together each kupu (word) line by line, mainly using Google Translate. Kimihia te āhua, the billboard series’ title, refers to processes of translation, and more generally to the reader’s search for meaning, for a specific ‘shape’, tone or form, in order to navigate a text which is new to them.
Speaking of the prolonged work of reading these pages, and acknowledging the likelihood of interpretative errors—in spite of paying such close attention—Iti says, “I was trying to work out what it was that I held.” Te Pipiwharauroa’s topics span sheep-rearing to shipping news, to the arrival of a comet in the night sky; they include the use of custom letter-forms for the consonants ‘ng’ and ‘wh’. Another recent work by Iti, Howling out at a distance (2020, Circuit commission), draws on the Te Pipiwharauroa research also. In that video individual words or phrases are isolated on each newspaper page, drawing out a new narrative in increments from within the historical text. For her work at Te Tuhi, a new digital billboard forms part of the series, bringing these century-old texts, originally printed with lead letterpress blocks, into contact with new media. Across such shifts, the intimate and sometimes difficult relationship between reader and historical text remains present.
Ana Iti (Te Rarawa) is based in Te-Whanganui-a-Tara, where she recently completed a MFA at Toi Rauwhārangi Massey University Wellington. Recent exhibitions include Strands, The Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt (2019); Māori Moving Image: An Open Archive, The Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, Ōtautahi (2019); The earth looks upon us /Ko Papatūānuku te matua o te tangata, Adam Art Gallery, Te-Whanganui-a-Tara (2018).