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Art and kinship

August 4, 2019


Art and kinship

If you attended the Onehunga Arts Festival in June, you would have been lucky enough to come across the work of Isaac Trebilco. Two pieces, part of his Whanaungatanga body of work, were on view at the art exhibition, which took place in the former Hard to Find bookstore on Onehunga Mall.


The paintings were portraits of a Mãori man and woman, and were created on recycled wood by combining stencils of photos with traditional mediums like oil and water colour. The photos were taken by Samuel Carnell (1832-1920), a local Hawkes Bay politician, who turned his hand to photography in his later years. He took hundreds of photos of local Mãori, but Isaac says many of the people in them have not been been identified; no-one knows the man and woman in his paintings.


The One Tree Hill resident says, as a Pakeha, his aim is to use his work to connect with Mãori culture and also “start a conversation.” A two-year stint living amongst the “extreme poverty” of a remote Aboriginal settlement in Australia, where his wife was working as aa nurse, have been the “biggest influence in the art that I do – it’s more meaningful [than the work I did before].” He says he saw what happens in a country where indigenous people  are not acknowledged. This is why he  chose the photos because they are looking straight into the camera. “They are in a position of power. When you look at their faces, they are not backing down,” he says.


His on-going project, Whanaungatanga, means kinship and a sense of family connection through shared experiences. In 2017, he showed some of this work at a solo exhibition in London. He suggested then that by embracing and honouring each other’s culture, it strengthens the Whanaungatanga we have together.


The next stage of Isaac’s Whanaungatanga project, is several stencilled portraits of of the local residents and protestors at Ihumãtao in Mãngere.


To see the paintings, and find out more about his work, go to or follow Isaac on Instagram @isaactriesart.


(Isaac Trebilco in his home studio)