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Painting panels of hope

Mr G 3

Internationally renowned artist Graham ‘Mr G’ Hoete and his wife Milly spent last week in Wairoa sharing their Tumanako (Hope) programme, which draws on street art to strengthen communities.

The pair worked with 25 rangatahi and turned their visuals and thoughts into a mural across the back of the Wairoa Community Centre.

Mr G and Milly are both from small towns and recognise limitations of not growing up in the city. Mr G has been drawing since he was four years old and shot to fame around 20 years ago by painting portraits of dogs. His artistic skill and talent stood out so much that Milly had to give up her job, and the couple focused on their art business, which involved business murals, portraits and carving.

They then moved to Sydney, and following a combination of factors, the couple each went through separate journeys of depression. Milly describes the feeling as being at ground zero, burnt out and in a deep dark time.

To work his way out of depression, Mr G began painting messages of hope through street murals, and Tumanako – the Māori translation for hope, was created.

The next step was running a youth art programme for more than 100 young people whose parents were in prison. While the medium was street painting, the message remained one of hope and not giving up.

Milly describes the programme as very therapeutic and a powerful way of connecting with youth.

The couple returned home seven years ago and, aware of New Zealand’s high youth suicide statistics, wanted to take what they had been through in Australia and use it to help in New Zealand.

With funding from Te Puni Kokiri, the Tumanko programme was launched and has been rolled out across the country in more than 20 communities, involving hundreds of rangatahi.

Tumanako is a nationwide art project that involves a two-day workshop followed by four days of rangatahi painting a mural with the message of Tumanako/Hope against suicide alongside Mr G.

Mr G and Milly welcomed the opportunity to bring the programme to Wairoa, particularly in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle. “It’s been a hard time locally, and this kaupapa shares messages of hope through bright localised storytelling and instils hope into the next generation through the visual arts, creating awareness of mental health, anxiety and depression.”

Wairoa Community Centre Manager Sara Bird welcomed the opportunity to have an artist of Mr G's calibre paint a mural at the community centre. She explained that the programme began with a workshop at Te Rauhina Marae, where the rangatahi opened up and shared what they believed was hope through their own sketches in workbooks.

Mr G then turned these thoughts into the mural, with the design based on the ideas of the rangatahi, which include the Wairoa River as a favourite place, connection to their Nan or Koro, Koiri- Kowhaiwhai representing whānau, hapori and support encouraging people to reach out for help and also to check in on whānau and friends, and gumboots as a symbol of hope referring to the floods, when everyone was working hard together to help each other.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little said it was an honour to have an artist of Mr G's calibre in town and working with our youth.

“The back wall of the Community Centre building looks great, particularly across the river from the North Clyde side. I would like to think this could be the start of a revitalisation of our town and a catalyst for more murals and artwork representing our community. Thank you to everyone involved in making this happen. The council is always keen to hear from anyone who has ideas to help beautify our district.”


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9 May 2024

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