Uku-paka—A ceramic mural and standing place

Story by Libby Judge

Faculty of Education, 2018

A Symbolic Tūrangawaewae

Uku-paka, a ceramic mural crafted by renowned potter Doreen Blumhardt in collaboration with Wellington Teachers’ College students in 1992, previously graced the entrance to the Karori Education Campus. The art work was a symbolic tūrangawaewae (standing place) for students and staff, reflecting the three years a student teacher spends at university. With the recent sale of the Karori Campus to Ryman Healthcare, and the art work being placed into storage, I am curious to know when and where the Faculty of Education will find a new place to stand at Victoria University of Wellington.

The Three Panels of Uku-paka

Uku-paka was created by 24 students who had never worked with clay before. They were given the brief to create something that represents a student’s journey at Teachers’ College, and each of the three panels in the mural depicts an important part of this journey.

First Panel: New Life

In the first panel, the flax and fern represent the beginning of life at Teachers’ College, and the trees and ferns in the background symbolise the growth that slowly occurs. The bare earth at the bottom acknowledges that our lives come from the land, honouring our natural environment.

Second Panel: the Three Baskets of Knowledge

The second panel depicts the traditional Māori story Nga kete o te Wananga (the three baskets of knowledge). A Māori student at the College came up with the idea to include the story in the mural, as it represents all the knowledge obtained for mankind from Io, the supreme god, by Tane-te-wānanga-ā-rangi (Tāne, bringer of knowledge from the sky).

The first basket, te kete aronui, holds all the knowledge that can help mankind. It contains the teachings of aroha and peace and relates to the knowledge acquired through careful observation of the environment.

Te kete tuauri, is the basket of sacred knowledge. It holds the knowledge of ritual, memory, and prayer and relates to the creation of the natural world.

Te kete tuatea, the third kete, contains the ancestral knowledge of evil and war and all that is harmful to mankind.

Third Panel: A Journey Completed

The third panel symbolises the multicultural aspects of university life, and the people gathered here from all corners of the globe. The koru springs from the baskets of knowledge, and the river of life gathers more knowledge as it flows over rocks and rapids and emerges finally into the sea—the students are ready to enter the world as teachers.

More than just a Mural

Uku-paka captures the very nature of education and what it means to be a teacher—embarking on a life-long journey towards truth, knowledge, and wisdom. At the Karori Campus, staff and students looked to the mural as a reference point for purpose and belonging.

With the move to the Kelburn Campus in 2016, members of the Faculty of Education feel as though it is in a state of transition. Victoria is yet to provide a permanent home for the Faculty, and with staff currently working in old student dorm rooms as offices, I can’t blame them for feeling lonely and abandoned.

I think Uku-paka demonstrates the power of art to bring together a community, however, and I’m hoping that 2018 will be the year that Education staff and students reclaim their sense of belonging—perhaps with the creation of another mural.

A Closer Look at Uku-paka

  • <p>Three Baskets of Knowledge mural created by Doreen Blumhardt and Teacher's College students. Image source unknown. Copyright Victoria University of Wellington. </p>

Where is the Faculty of Education?

Waiteata Rd, Wellington, New Zealand