Kupu T-shirt project

Article Detail

Tuesday 4 August 2014
Martin Langdon

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Gallery Assistant Nicola demonstrating Wednesday's kupu, nau mai

If you are connected to the Gallery online or have been in the Gallery recently you may have seen staff members wearing T-shirts with one of these seven Māori kupu (words) printed on them. 

kōrero, inu, nau mai, āe, whetū, manuhiri, ngutu 

As part of the Gallery’s Matariki celebrations we assigned each of these seven words to a day of the week, and people wore their T-shirt with that day’s word. This was a chance for us to learn te reo Māori collectively, practise vocalising and talking about meanings and potential uses of our chosen kupu. If you’ve seen the online images you will know people were asked to demonstrate the meaning of their kupu by taking a photograph of themselves wearing the T-shirt.

So how did this come about?

I decided while creating Matariki programming that it would be a good initiative to have the Gallery’s staff actively engage with the Māori language and generate a broader awareness of Matariki and te wiki o te reo Māori (Māori language week). Kōrero (talk, speak) was one of the five principles of my kaupapa when putting together the Matariki public programme.

I started by looking at what other organisers were running nationally for te wiki o te reo and got in touch with Te Taura Whiri i te Reo Māori (the Māori Language Commission). The organisation provided me with some great free resources to distribute and utilise as well as letting me know their plans to have kupu of te wiki (word of the week) for 52 weeks starting from Māori language week, Monday 21 July 2014.

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Visitor Experience Team Leader Fan showing off a nice pair of ngutu

Our seven kupu were selected from their list of 52, so we could have kupu o te ra or word of the day for the four weeks of Matariki. Seven kupu appearing four times during the month would help to reinforce the usage and learning. The front of house management team were really supportive of the idea and we screen-printed 30 staff T-shirts for the project. I would like to thank Popo hardware for their quick turnaround and help with achieving this project.

The uptake by staff was overwhelmingly positive and it was really inspiring to see that people here were keen to invest and learn. We had 29 participants in the kupu T-shirt project, a mixture of gallery assistants, security, conservators, curators, educators and even café staff members all willing to don a t-shirt with their assigned kupu on their word’s allotted day.

This was not just about wearing a T-shirt as each participant understood they would have to know their kupu and be ready to answer and discuss what it meant with other staff members and the public. As mentioned, they were also tasked with capturing the meaning of their kupu in an image that would go online to reach to our online visitors.

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Team kōrero having a tea party

Other extensions to the project came via staff-led initiatives as we progressed through the weeks, some staff learnt new phrases and kupu and actively sought to put them into use. One staff member asked that the Gallery’s closing announcement be translated into te reo to be read out along with the usually English announcement. I have also heard discussions from the front of house managers that the future staff uniforms could look to incorporate more te reo Māori into the design to foster more engagement from the public but also more learning opportunities for staff.

I feel the Gallery has really demonstrated an awareness of and commitment to te reo Māori, and that this project has been rewarding not only for staff members participating in Matariki, but also to the public who have shown awareness and engagement. I look forward to seeing this grow at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki.

Definition and day of our kupu:

Monday’s kupu – kōrero 
1. (verb) (-hia,-ngia,-tia) to tell, say, speak, read, talk, address 
2. (noun) speech, narrative, story, news, account, discussion, conversation, discourse

Tuesday’s kupu – inu 
1. (verb) (-mia) to drink 
2. (noun) drink

Wednesday’s kupu – nau mai 
1. welcome

Thursday’s kupu – āe 
1. (verb) to agree, give assent

Friday’s kupu – whetū 
1. (noun) star, asterisk – sometimes used for other celestial bodies, eg comets

Saturday’s kupu – manuhiri 
1. (noun) visitor, guest.

Sunday’s kupu – ngutu 
1. (noun) lip, beak, bill, rim 
2. (noun) entrance (of a cave, river, etc.), river mouth