Major artwork gifted as a legacy for Christchurch quake victim

Ben Willems at the blessing ceremony of Pupu Harakeke. His wife, Lisa Willems, was killed in the February 22, 2011, ...
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Ben Willems at the blessing ceremony of Pupu Harakeke. His wife, Lisa Willems, was killed in the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

Six years after Lisa Willems died in the February 2011 earthquake, her husband has helped gift a major public artwork to Christchurch as part of an $85 million city development.

Ben Willems, a partner at accounting firm EY, watched as the artwork, Pupu Harakeke, by award-winning Auckland sculptor Virginia King, was placed inside Ngai Tahu's King Edward Barracks development on Cambridge Tce on Thursday.

About 1500 people – from firms including EY, Aurecon and government departments – will use the barracks' office buildings, which sit around a publicly accessible square where the artwork – a large stainless steel shell with words cut out of it by laser – will rotate on a pole.

Then-Prime Minister John Key speaks to Sam Willems, 10, and his sister Olivier, 10, during a visit to Cashmere Primary ...
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

Then-Prime Minister John Key speaks to Sam Willems, 10, and his sister Olivier, 10, during a visit to Cashmere Primary in 2012.

Lisa Willems, 43, died when her car was struck by falling masonry during the February 2011 earthquake.

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Ben Willems, who remarried in 2016, said the past six years were difficult for him and his children, Olivia and Sam, but the artwork was a way to remember Lisa and others who had suffered in the quakes.

Lisa Patricia Willems was killed in the February 22, 2011, Christchurch earthquake.

Lisa Patricia Willems was killed in the February 22, 2011, Christchurch earthquake.

"This is a way to commemorate Lisa in a way she would have found fitting. She was a talented artist and, I think, would like the idea of a sculpture. She would also like the idea of it being open for people to come and have a look.

"It is also a way to acknowledge all of our family, friends, workmates and the wider community who've helped so much."

He picked the artwork because the words and phrases on it resonated with him.

Willems said partners and staff at EY had pushed for the sculpture and made personal contributions alongside those of the firm, Ngai Tahu and the Christchurch City Council, to help pay for it.

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He declined to comment on the cost of the work.

"I hope people will come and look at the sculpture and think about how far the city has come since 2011. We've all faced a lot of challenges and public spaces like this with art, similar to others around the city, can lift people up."

Willems said he made a choice to live and work in the city after the earthquakes. Lisa loved Canterbury and the opportunities it provided to get into the outdoors and go tramping, walking and mountain biking.

"I want the city to be a place my kids are proud to call home. Now we are all returning to the central city to work after years in offices further out it seems like Christchurch is coming strongly back to life."

The sculpture was blessed this morning by Ngai Tahu.

The site is expected to be full of office workers by mid-May, further boosting the central city, which has experienced an influx of thousands of people in the past year.

Ngai Tahu designed the barracks site to include an external space between buildings, known as Nga Mara a Te Wera (The Gardens of Te Wera), to be used by the public.

 - Stuff

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