Fred Graham's Tāne and Tūpai

Story by Mitchell Black

Museum and Heritage Studies, 2017

The lore of Whare-Wananga

But Tāne, with the aid of the winds, was able to proceed until he reached the summit of all the heavens. Here, at Toi-o-ngā-rangi, he was welcomed by Io and received the three baskets of knowledge and the two sacred stones.”

“Ko Tāne, i te awhina o ngā hau, i tāea e ia te haere tae noa ki te tihi o ngā rangi katoa. I konei, i Toi-o-ngā-rangi, i manaakitanga ia e Io, a kohia ana e ia ngā kete e toru o te mōhio me ngā kohatu tapu e rua.” - The lore of Whare Wānanga, Percy Smith, 1913

Tāne and Tūpai

Tāne and Tūpai is a contemporary sculpture by New Zealand Māori artist, Fred Graham. The work was commissioned in 1975 by Victoria University of Wellington and its subject reflects the University context. Made from native kauri and tōtara timbers, it depicts two figures of Māori mythology, Tāne and Tūpai, and the story of their journey to the heavens to retrieve the origins of teaching and knowledge for humankind. These are known as the baskets of knowledge (ngā kete o te wānanga) and the stones of knowledge (whatukura).

Whatukura and Ngā Kete o Te Wānanga

Graham created this sculpture to tell the story of Tāne and Tūpai, and many students see it daily as they pass by in the library. It stands over three metres tall on its plinth, towering above everyone who observes it. The figure of Tāne is holding out ngā kete o te wānanga. Tūpai holds whatukura above the student, symbolising the authority of the University as an educator. Above that, we can see Tāne reaching toward the sky, suggesting the heights to which students can aspire when setting out to achieve their goals.

Whatukura carry the mana and authority of teaching and trace a mythological origin for teaching in Māori society. Ngā kete o te wānanga are said to each hold a different school or body of knowledge. Te kete-aronui contains all useful knowledge. Te kete-tuauri holds all sacred knowledge regarding ritual, memory and prayer. The third basket te kete-tuatea holds all knowledge harmful to humankind.

  • <p>Fred Graham (b.1928), <em>Tāne and Tūpai, </em>1975, kauri and totara, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, commissioned 1975</p>
  • <p>Fred Graham (b.1928), <em>Tāne and Tūpai, </em>1975, kauri and totara, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, commissioned 1975</p>
  • <p>Fred Graham (b.1928), <em>Tāne and Tūpai, </em>1975, kauri and totara, Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, commissioned 1975</p>

The Artist

Fred Graham (born 1928, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura) is from the Waikato region of the North Island. He trained as a teacher in Hamilton and spent much of his career teaching art in primary schools. Graham was a member of a group of artists who were part of a teaching initiative created by Gordon Tovey that brought art education to rural Māori communities in Northland. This group, which included artists such as Cliff Whiting and Paratene Matchitt, were known as “The Class of ’66” after the show they organised in a church hall in Hamilton in 1966 called Contemporary Maori Painting and Sculpture. Their body of work contributed to a renaissance in modern and contemporary Māori art.


Graham’s work continues to be highly regarded and can be found in art gallery collections and on public display throughout Aotearoa New Zealand. His lifelong dedication to Māori art saw him receive the 2017 Creative New Zealand Te Waka Toi award.

Te Waka Toi Awards 2017

  • Fred Graham - Supreme Winner Te Waka Toi Awards 2017

Where is the Sculpture?

The Library, Kelburn, Wellington 6012, New Zealand