Sometimes described as Māori fairy folk, patupaiarehe were said to live in the mountains and forests, cleaving to darkness, and building their homes from swirling mists. They had pale skin and red or fair hair, and bewitched people, especially young women, luring them away. Redhead and albino Māori were sometimes said to be the result of interbreeding. Today, some speculate that patupaiarehe descended from early Europeans who arrived here before Polynesians.
Whanganui photographer Tia Ranginui (Ngāti Hine Oneone), however, dismisses such theories for 'exploiting our stories, against us’. In her series Tua o Tāwauwau/Away with the Fairies (2020–2), she puts her own spin on the stories. Now, it seems, patupaiarehe are out and about, living amongst us, in suburban Gonville and Castlecliff, in daylight, hiding in plain sight. They still conjure the mist, only now it's provided by smoke machines and vapes.
Some of her images nod to Norse myth. For instance, Sleipnir—showing a patupaiarehe on the prowl in his Mustang car—takes its title from Odin’s eight-legged horse. Ranginui plays with the way Māori have themselves viewed patupaiarehe through a mist of otherness.
Curated by Robert Leonard. Developed from a show at City Gallery Wellington in 2021.
Image: Tia Ranginui, Sleipnir 2020
10 September 2022 – 26 February 2023