Hariata Ropata-Tangahoe was born in Otaki in 1952 and is of Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Raukawa and Te Atiawa descent. She lived on the Kapiti Coast as a child, then moved to Auckland. In 1984 Hariata returned to the Kapiti Coast, intrigued by the stories of her female ancestors and how they had occupied their coastal landscape. Her first Bowen Galleries show, was “Home, heart and soul” in 1985. Keen to develop other ways of looking at art, Hariata studied first at Waikato Polytechnic, and later attained a Masters degree from Elam School of Fine Arts. She reflects on this experience: “It was a turning point in beginning to understand our tupuna, our iwi histories, and the migration south. My whakapapa is the foundation of the conceptual narratives in my paintings.”
Since 2004, Hariata has spent a great deal of time in waka construction with her friend Leonard Taylor. Her interest was triggered by finding a 13 metre rimu log, washed up on Te Horo beach after a storm – “a gift from Tane, Hinemoana and Tangaroa.” She says that the waka projects, like her whole art practice, is grounded in the importance of customary knowledge. “It’s all about connection…It’s not about me, it’s about us – all Māori, trying to recover what we lost as a result of colonisation.”
Guided by these same concerns and values, Hariata approaches her painting as a process where the spirit of works take on imaginary views that capture ways of thinking about whakapapa, including her Celtic and Italian lineage, in much deeper and profound ways. Her artwork invents notions of the whimsical, the fictional and unbelievable insights that take a viewer to unworldly and timeless places of the mind’s eye, places that only one’s subconsciousness knows where to go. Hariata also creates according to a statement by Louise Bourgeois: “Art is not about art. It is about life, and that sums it up.”
Hariata’s work is held in numerous Aotearoa public and private collections such as the Dowse, the BNZ collection and Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand. Hariata’s work was included in the 1987 exhibition ‘Nga Taonga a o Tatou Kuia (The Treasures of Our Grandmothers)’ alongside other notable wāhine artists of her generation such as Kura Te Waru Rewiri and Robyn Kahukiwa.