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If This Wall Could Talk

Gisborne's Tile Wall. Photo:Cody Keepa/Keepa Digital.
Pakiwaitara Project Lead David Jones and Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival Producer Rose McGrannachan. Photo: Cody Keepa/Keepa Digital.
Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival CEO and Artistic Director Tama Waipara. Photo: Strike Photography.
Two decades after its vibrant launch, a community artwork is coming back to life in Gisborne - involving up to 6500 artists.


An inspirational artwork, created by 6500 school children at the dawn of the millennium, is the basis for the first project announced today for Gisborne’s Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival.

Pakiwaitara (If This Wall Could Talk) is a digital retrospective of Gisborne’s beloved Tile Wall – A vibrant display of hand-painted tiles that was created in 1999 and will feature when the Festival runs from 2-11 October.

Blast from the Past

For Project Lead, David Jones (Rongowhakaata, Ngāti Kahungunu), being a part of Pakiwaitara is both personal and a privilege.

“I was one of the kids that were part of the project back in ’99. This is my little piece of me in Te Tairāwhiti,” says Jones.

Like Jones, the 10 to 12-year olds who first painted their tiles over 20 years ago, are now well into their thirties. The goal of Pakiwaitara is to digitally reconnect with those who contributed to the wall.

“It’s a time of reflection. We created these at the dawn of the millennium, which was exciting for all of us. Now we are in the middle of a global pandemic and that’s given us all a time to sit, reflect and consider ‘what are we doing and where are we heading to now?’

“During lockdown, people used technology to connect with each other and with this project we are using technology to connect and also take stock of where we are today.”

Pakiwaitara asks people to seek and to claim their tile online - regardless of where they are in the world.

However, Pakiwaitara goes deeper than merely saying ‘That’s mine. I did that.’

Project Lead David Jones reminiscing at Gisborne's Tile Wall. Photo:Cody Keepa/Keepa Digital.

It wants to know; Me pēhea koe? (How are you). As well as; Where are you? What have you been up to? What is your life now? If you were to give us a tile in 2020 what would it say about you?

Connecting to your Roots

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival CEO and Artistic Director, Tama Waipara says Pakiwaitara’s goal is to connect people with place and each other through the medium of art.

“We have a clear kaupapa which defines who we are and why we are doing it. It is, we are of the place and its people. That we are arts-led and that we are a platform for connections.

“Being based in Gisborne, we are informed by what our community experiences and faces on a day to day basis. As well as that, we acknowledge that we are part of a broader conversation across the county and the world as well.” 

Those who claim their tile are also being asked to contribute to the digital wall in any way, including mediums not available back at the end of last century.

“It can be a selfie, a self-portrait, Tic Tok, a piece of artwork, whatever way people want to use to reconnect.

“The wall is a living, active part of the community, but you don’t always see what’s behind that tile. I guess that’s what we’re trying to do - just reconnect and learn about who we are.”

Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival CEO and Artistic Director Tama Waipara. Photo: Strike Photography.

There's an Artist in Everyone

For those who might be reluctant to contribute due to feeling a lack of artistic ability, Waipara has a message.

“If you don’t think you’re an artist, you’re wrong because everyone who painted a tile back in 1999 has portrayed themselves. The creativity is still there.

“Story, music, visual arts. Carving and weaving. Art is life. Art is part of everything that we do. It’s not something that should be separate, or isolated from our everyday lives.

“The great thing about Pakiwaitara is you choose your medium to connect. We are a platform for connections,” says Waipara.

Jones, whose connection to the wall is both tangible and emotional, knows from personal experience not all of the 6500 will be able to contribute.  

“I know several people on the tile wall, including my sister, who have passed away in those intervening 20 years. It gives us as family members a chance to remember them because we carry them wherever we go.”

His hope is that by reconnecting an artwork people helped create, the children of today can be inspired to pursue their own aspirations. 

“People look to those older to guide them, to see how to act in society. I see this as a platform for younger people to be inspired by.

“We’ve got rugby players, performers, actors, people in politics, contractors, businessmen - all part of the original artwork.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing where people are today and hear their stories.”

If you were one of the original tile artists, head to to register and claim your tile. You can also follow the project via Te Tairāwhiti Arts Festival’s Facebook page.


Written by Bevan Sanson.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

19 Jun 2020

The Big Idea Editor

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