Te Aho Mano/ A Thousand Strands

An exhibition, and an invitation to be connected.

A Thousand Strands is an exhibition of drawings and sculptures at The Engine Room, Massey, made by Siân Torrington while on an Asia New Zealand Foundation artist residency to Shanthi Road, Bengaluru in 2015; as well as new work, a collaboration with Anahera Gildea, and a musical response from Leilani A I’iga-Pua.

It is a return to a place I have long connection with, and an offer to the students there. Below is a written response to the development of the shoe, and below that, my opening speech.

 Response to Sian’s pictures

What if my threads are debris?  What if my sacred threads are just debris?  Then I am homeless.  Then I am spending all my time trying to build shelters for myself.  Trying to find places to put my bones.  The word iwi means bones.

What if I put flowers on my threads?  Explosions of determined blooming are happening here.  It cannot be prevented.  I am unable to be held down – no matter my threads unknown.  No matter my unstructured pepehā.  Both fragility and grit go together.  These are my karanga.  When I stand mate wahineon the paepae (on the border) I am an open thread to the world of te pō.  I am walking fearlessly in a place not everyone can go.  I can travel to the darkness…and back.

What if I cannot build?  What if I cannot make myself stand?  What if sticks and stones have broken my bones/my iwi/kōiwi?  I have cut my hair in grief.  A thousand strands have fallen to the earth and from them grew all of the colours.  Flight has wings.  My moko kauae.  Tāwhirimātea is the unstoppable force of nature who cares not that you disagree, that you dislike.  In the topknot.  The threads I have dropped are ladders from you to me and from me to you.  Hine.

Māwhero came from the first woman.  Her cheeks were it.  Her breasts were it.  Her womb sheltered it.  It is te ara, the pathway.

By Anahera Gildea


Opening speech

I am Sian Torrington, and I am here with friends. I have been part of this art school for the last nine years: Seven years of teaching here, and two years of studying for my MFA.

Seven is a lucky number, a witch number, and I’ve returned now, to make an offer of encouragement, to you, the students, our young people, our new artists, full of fire. I am here as an artist, a feminist, a woman, a gender queer person, a queer person. I am here as an artist.

My whakapapa on my fathers side is Welsh, and we love to talk, so I will tell you a story from 9 years ago.

On the first day I met Simon Morris, one of my MFA supervisors, he commented that my work seemed like it didn’t have much irony in it. My response was that my work is anti-irony. Anti-coolness. I had come to school from my dear friend Hinemoana’s marae; from her family reunion over Christmas. There were around 100 people there, and everyone spoke or performed. Hinemoana is a musician, a poet, a performer, as was her partner, and mine. And I sat amongst mighty orators, comedians, performers. I didn’t imagine that I would speak, or need to. And as we sat there, she said to me: if there’s anything you can say, you should say it. I wrote down a poem, a list of everything I had noticed since we left Wellington. The grass, the light, the people, the welcome. When I stood on the stage, I was shaking with fear. I spoke in a trembling voice. An uncle to my left heckled me; me make me laugh, to make me comfortable. I spoke through tears of nerves. I spoke my own words.

Afterwards, people hugged me, welcomed me with warmth and friendship, and encouragement.

This is how I began my MFA, and this is how I have wanted to continue my art making. With bravery, generosity, and authenticity. With gratitude to the people, the tangata whenua of this land, and Pasifika peoples, who know so much about how to speak, protect, and make connections, and have shared with me.

This show is about connection, gender, sexuality, and liberation. Many of these works were made on an Asia New Zealand Foundation artist residency in Bengaluru, India. Feminisms in India are fierce, and embodied, and massively intelligent. I have never felt like more of a woman when I was there, because I didn’t have enough women around me. How could I connect with other women? Men dominate the street, and I was not part of the networks where women connected. So this show is a combination of that feeling, of being a woman, of being fiercely female, and my reconnection with my gender queerness on my return: my male genders in self portraits who back this space. Suresh who ran the residency said to me when someone asked him are you single? No, I am multiple.

This show acknowledges all those who encouraged me when I studied here, particularly Hinemoana Baker, Teresia Teiawa, Jack Trolove, Rachel O’Neill. And all those since. Anahera Gildea, and Leilani, who have collaborated and responded to this show. Lara, Holly, and Nat, without whom this show could not have been installed. My darling partner, who helps with everything, all the time.

You guided me to read. You said, write your words, all of the words. You said, make your mark. You said, go ahead and cry. You said, we need you. You said, yes.

May this be a space of learning, sharing, offers, and tautoko. It is an offer. I have brought all the the books from my shelves that lift me. You are welcome to read them. We will help you to copy them. I have come with my friends, Anahera, and Leilani, who have made responses, who have offered tautoko to this mahi. We offer it to you, in encouragement, because we who disrupt the dominant narractive, we are not alone.

When I was 8, we were asked in school to bring in a seed to plant. I took an acorn, and grew an oak tree. It’s now 32 years old, and it’s huge. Every summer, for the last 7 years, I’ve done  a gardening job. And in one of those gardens, there is an oak tree. Underneath it is hundreds of oak seedlings, which we pull out, because they are disrupting the path. But if we were to leave them, this would be a forest.  My karakia for you, my wish for you, is that you find those who nourish you, and encourage you to make your own path, together. May you be surrounded. May you be nourished. May you be the forest.

Te hei mauri ora.


Images by Amos Mann and Annie Lee