Keri-Mei Zagrobelna is another local gem in the crown of Aro Valley - read on to learn more about this wonderful artist, what inspires her and the exciting projects she has on the go!
So tell me about yourself and your art practice !
I guess you could label as a contemporary Māori Jeweller because that’s my predominant creative practice, but I do delve into drawing and sketching also. I'm moving into more installations and larger works as well, I'm very interested in developing and evolving in that creative field.
Next year, I’ll be exhibiting in the Courtney place lightboxes for the Matariki exhibition which I'm very, very humbled, honored and excited to do.
I am creating a series that not only honours and acknowledges Matariki but also the Maramataka Māori lunar calendar - A lot of the moon phases are associated with different meanings, some to plant, times to rest and times that are a bit more productive. By learning to live with our Maramataka calendar we can create a better balance in our relationship with the
environment and also within ourselves and our own mental health.
Certain moons are associated with being “not very positive times” - this may be the time where people who may be prone to a bit of a depression need that extra bit of care and aroha from friends and family. When those times are coming up you know to bring everyone in your network close around you and to be a bit kinder or gentle on yourself. I think that knowing these
kinds of cycles can be beneficial to our community and we can all learn to look after one another
a bit better.
I'm a little bit nervous because it is a challenging project, I've been researching for well over a year now. I think through my own experience of now living more purposely to the Maramataka calendar and moon phases it's been really beneficial, so I wanted to share that knowledge with others through my art.
Yeah, that sounds like a really cool modern fusion of hauora and art and how there's all
this wealth of traditional knowledge, and you're introducing it through a completely new
medium to a completely new audience, who may not have encountered anything like this
before. So exciting!
Another big project I'm working on is a public sculpture that will be going up on the Porirua writer's walk for Elizabeth Knox; one of the writers being represented on the walk. So it's been an interesting experience because I'm taking a piece of writing, and interpreting it into a 50 meter high permanent piece. I've been working on it for over a year as well, with a team of
Industrial engineers and all that good stuff, so its been really interesting and im super excited to be working with Elizabeth on this project.
That's so exciting! Having 2 large scale projects running at the same time is no joke, how
do you balance the workload?
This year I just started working full time at TLC so it definitely has been a challenge, and I love my job, absolutely. But in saying that, my studio practice has definitely suffered from the extra demands on my time. So I'm trying to find that equality again. I've definitely learned to be a bit more disciplined. Ill have days where I'm just not feeling it, but if I just sit at my desk, pick up a
material and start to play with it then that physical action can get the creative juices flowing and then the excitement kicks in again and it's like “I've got this”.
You just have to be strict on yourself and prioritize and try to be streamlined where you can. So with my jewellery range that I sell through retail galleries now because I've been doing it for a few years now im alot more faster and it's a bit more streamlined, but it supports the more kind of fun work and passion projects of mine.
Tell me more about them!
So the one i'm working on at the moment is called Barnacle Barf Brooch - I just had all these mussel shells cleaned up and was looking at them thinking I wanted to do something playful, colourful and fun to create, mixing materials is quite interesting for me, these are the kinds of thing I get excited about.
Because all my work has another layer underneath it, the conceptual meaning is it what you put in the ocean, you eventually put in your mouth
The nice thing about wearing it is that you can play with it,it's quite tactile and very recognizable
to us as kiwi being a mussel shell. So it's a fun kind of project to be working on!
Another reason why I work in the field of contemporary jewelry is I see it as a really good medium to be able to communicate my culture and build cross cultural discussions or understanding. A lot of the materials I'm using are traditional Maori materials like wood, bone or Pounamu which I love blending with more modern jewellery materials and techniques. So
someone from, say from overseas might recognize the silver on the piece where someone from New Zealand might recognize the mussel shell first. When that happens, that allows them to see familiar materials in a new light and opens up conversations about the unfamiliar materials used.
What are you inspired by and how much of your creative energy do you draw from your environment here in the valley?
Yeah, well I whakapapa to Wellington, my iwi affiliations are Whānau-ā- Apanui and Te Āti Awa. I've been here in the valley for about 5 years now and I feel very happy that I'm here, because of the history behind Aro valley Epuni Street was originally called Te Puni street after the Māori chief and Te Puni is actually one of my ancestors. My mother and my grandmother are buried at Te Puni urupa out in Petone as well so just subconsciously knowing all my tipuna and whanau in this area and then working creatively here, well…. That just makes me feel grounded. There's an energy in Aro that I don't
know how to describe but sometimes it feels very old.
We're also surrounded by so many cool creative people and fellow artists in the valley, and the community here is really cool. Everyone smiles at each other when they walk down the street. Another thing I love is there's so many birds around here, especially kaka, although they are quite terrifying at times.
They like to sit in the cabbage tree outside my studio so I'll often glance out the window and see a massive Kaka staring me down!
I actually did a series about the Kaka poria,(bird leg rings ), because historically they used to be working pets - Maori used to put poria on Kaka to have them on leads,then take them into the bush to draw the other Kaka down from the trees, which they would then catch - like a lure bird.
So that really fascinated me and I made poria to go around our human ankle or neck. At the time I was creatively questioning myself a lot and in a love/hate relationship with my art; it was feeling very consuming and frustrating. I felt like I wanted to rest but I couldn't, not until I was”done”. So the whole concept of being trapped in creativity, in our art, it lures you in and
holds you tight.
I was really anxious and depressed at the time, and the series spoke to how sometimes you can get really comfortable with those feelings of anxiety and depression to the point where you treat them like a pet. You know, you just get kind of used to having it around, and expect it.
The other layer to the poria is they were adornment but also practical; traditionally you wore your tools around your neck - another tie in with jewelry which resonated with me. I was exploring all sorts of different materials, sizes, shapes and designs while playing with the concept, and then just putting it on my own ankle, and experiencing how that felt.
How did that make you feel ?
Oh, it did make me feel somewhat trapped, or weighed down, because it was huge. It was just kind of heavy and awkward, and that's how I was feeling in my practice right then emotionally so to physically feel that was really cathartic.
My work and creativity is very much my therapy. When you're soldering metals or making a ring using heat and flame it's quite dangerous, you have to concentrate and focus. You have to really pay attention that you're not going to melt anything and that you've got the flame right and in that deliberate focus it's like meditation for me It brings me to that presence in the now.
There's some designs that I repeat and those repeated designs act almost like a mantra for me. After my mom passed away I went through a real shadow period, a very dark time, and I was all over the show. It wasn't until my friend suggested I should go to the learning connection, that I discovered jewelry making. After TLC I went to Whitireia, and carried on with my practice and, now I'm working at TLC.
That's a full circle moment that you discovered your passion for jewelry at The Learning Connextion and now you're working there with your passion.
Yeah i'm kind of blown away, but I have worked hard to get where I am too. We have such a diverse range of students that come to us, for so many different reasons and so many beautiful forms of expression of their art.I love being part of that community and sort of paying it forward and sharing creative passion with the next generation of artists, they inspire me so much.
The other thing that inspires and drives me is self expression. Where I'm from, how I see the world and my experiences living in it. I'm sharing who I am, as a person and I am feeling braver with my art and with myself - I was diagnosed with depression and through the process of creating art I became comfortable talking about my mental health, and not feeling held back by the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.
Where to from here ?
Who knows what the future holds? My biggest aspiration is to one day start a scholarship for contemporary māori jewellers in honour of my mother and my grandmother. That's my biggest driving factor, and goal. Art and creating has just been so good for me, and I want nothing more than to sponsor opportunities for Māori artists to grow, develop,and flourish - art is truly life
Interview by Roxy Coervers
Photo credit - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
Links to more about Keri
Whanaungatanga is about relationships, kinship and a sense of connection, created through shared experiences and working together.