Hutt at Heart
Elliot O’Donnell AKA Askew One’s mural - Everything

Art, hope and Covid-19

As New Zealand was preparing to go into Covid-19 lockdown, three internationally-renowned urban artists were putting the finishing touches on two towering works of art in Lower Hutt’s central city.

The murals, on Dudley and Margaret streets, were commissioned by RiverLink – the flood protection, transport and urban renewal project to start construction in 2022 – in partnership with Hutt City Council Community Arts.

On Margaret Street, Auckland-based husband and wife team, Janine and Charles Williams, had one eye on the growing turmoil around Covid-19 as they finished their 13-metre high mural, Tūmanako or hope.

Auckland-based husband and wife team, Janine and Charles Williams.

The couple is known for bringing a love of birdlife to their work, and Tūmanako is dominated by three colossal kererū. A big part of the inspiration for the mural came from a conversation with Kura Moeahu, Chair of Te Rūnanga o Te Atiawa.

“He told of how there were huge flocks of kererū in the area but the numbers dropped dramatically. More recently, they’ve had a resurgence, and a lot of people are happy about that,” says Charles.

“And while we were painting the mural, the covid thing really kicked in.”

Charles says while at one level Tūmanako signifies the hope of biodiversity returning to the area, at another it represents the hope we need to steer us through the current crisis.

Much of the inspiration for Elliot O’Donnell AKA Askew One’s mural on Dudley Street also came from a conversation with Kura Moeahu.

The New York-based Aucklander says: “Kura told us a lot of stories about the significance of the river, particularly about his childhood and going down there eeling, how Māori over the generations sustained themselves from that river, and how the river has been impacted by the development around it.”

One of the key aims of RiverLink is to restore the river as the centerpiece of the central city, lined by a promenade of medium-rise apartments, restaurants and cafes and flanked by belts of parkland and restored wetlands.

“And I like that philosophically,” says Elliot. “I think it’s a much smarter way of designing cities – that they shouldn’t be built in defiance of nature – they should work together in unison.”

Entitled Everything, the mural deserves the time to take it all in. At one level, it depicts the river and its environs with its ripples, harakeke flowers, eel and a bee – nature’s workhorse, moving between habitats.

At a higher level, it lays out the overlapping systems that dominate our lives – nature, communities, governance and economics – and how they all need to be in balance if they are to nurture humanity   and not harm it.

“When you think about how a settlement of a city comes about in the first place, it really comes down to people settling close to the resources they need, and the obvious resource for the Hutt in those times was the river,” Elliot says.

“But it seems to be a city – how it’s been designed – that has neglected, that has blocked the river out of the equation. We need resources to sustain us but, in turn, we need to sustain those resources too.”

The three artists are founding members of the TMD Crew, a street art collective that grew out of the Auckland graffiti scene, eventually including international artists in its line-up.

The murals were completed with the support of Resene Paints and Hirepool.

Artist and videographer Mirella Moschella has made a stunning video of the murals, including interviews with locals:

And prepared to be blown away by the work of Janine and Charles and Elliot.

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