Carving is more than an interest for Tristan Marler. It's a way to learn more about his iwi and make a contribution to its future.
The Karangahape Rd resident first got into the art form while in his final year at Western Springs College.
A teacher introduced him to Maori music and he started making taonga puoro, traditional instruments, and carving embellishments on them.
Marler, 22, grew up in Pt Chevalier but his mother's side of the family is from Mitimiti in Northland and is of Te Rarawa descent.
He became increasingly interested in his cultural heritage as a teenager and it started to show in the motifs he used in his art practice.
"Carving was a logical step towards reconnecting further with my iwi and my hapu. It's been amazing. It's opened up a lot of opportunities for me."
In March he was one of four people to graduate from a three-year diploma course in Maori carving at NZ Maori Arts and Crafts Institute's Te Wananga Whakairo Rakau o Aotearoa, the National Wood Carving School in Rotorua.
"I got out of it skills and knowledge that I never thought I'd have," Marler says.
"I learnt how to visualise things in a 3D way which I think is really useful. I met a lot of cool people and we shared a lot of adventures. It was a culturally enriching experience."
One of the highlights of the course was working on a model meeting house for the Frankfurt International Book Fair in 2012.
The following year he was one of about 20 students and tutors who carved the 30m by 13m mahau (porch front) for the Te Matatini Kapa Haka Aotearoa festival in Rotorua.
"It was an amazing project to work on. We ended up doing it in about five months. It was such a huge amount of carving to do."
The students learned all the different regional carving techniques but by the end of the course everyone tended to lean towards their own iwi's style, he says.
"I didn't think I would but that's what slowly happened," Marler says.
"It's just the way I feel I need to carve because it relates more to me."
Marler started a bachelor of visual arts at Auckland University of Technology this year because he's keen to develop some of his other artistic skills such as painting and printmaking.
But he still has a hand in carving. He has been commissioned to work on a carved figure that will form part of a storehouse facade for the inaugural New Zealand exhibition at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale which runs from June 7 to November 23.
Marler eventually wants to go to Mitimiti to help carve Matihetihe Marae and teach his skills to others.
"I think it's knowledge that should be passed on.
"This, for me, is about perpetuating that knowledge and trying to develop it.
"It's important to make sure that the art survives and flourishes."
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