Wheke Fortress2 min readReading Time: 2 minutes
Accomplished local artists, Jessica Hansell (Coco) and Tokerau Brown (Toki), are actively working to set up an inclusive creative art space, Wheke Fortress, in premises on Tin Tacks Corner, Onehunga. They are crowdfunding to help raise funds to cover costs towards building renovations, utilities and art programmes.
They say the new area will be a “safe landing pad” where Māori, Pacific and Queer creatives can build organically, experiment and connect; it will provide an ultramodern gallery and meeting space for experimental artists. Both founders have been heavily involved in the arts across many mediums throughout the years.
Jessica, (Ngapuhi/Samoa), is a writer, musician, multimedia artist, and has also directed for screen. She is a Creative New Zealand Fulbright scholar through the Centre for Pacific Island Studies in Hawai’i, and in 2019 became a New Zealand Art Laureate for Interdisciplinary Arts. She also currently co-runs a creative agency and record label called Kuini Qontrol. Toki is a Rarotongan multidisciplinary artist from Whanganui/Ōtepoti and Rarotonga. He has a passion for creating events for Māori and Pasifika artists and musicians, and has also animated for television shows, music videos, and short film; he’s also illustrated Māori/Pasifika children’s books. Both Coco and Toki hope to mentor other emerging leaders by providing an engaging environment where they can be “ambitious, creative and weird”.
Wheke Fortress will provide a venue for many activities including workshops, hui, talanoa, pop-up exhibitions, swaps and selling work, underground lectures, small festival events, one-off performances, hot desk availability and studio spaces.
“We wanted to build a space that operated outside the box, where we could collaborate and converse openly and safely. I had reached a point where I was politically exhausted, and I was tired of being the token gesture for diversity or inclusivity. I wanted to create an environment where we could be the default setting – where our protocols, systems, ideas, and cultural narratives would be the norm. Not considered strange or novel, or even as an afterthought. Normalising the indigenous experience shouldn’t be unusual, it should be mainstream. Our representation should be essential,” says Jessica.
Local philanthropist and owner of Arc Onehunga, the rental apartments at 50 Selwyn Street, Kent Gardner, is an Arts Foundation trustee, and wants to see the Wheke Fortress vision come to life. He has generously agreed to match each donation with a $25,000 match fund. “I’m proud to support an amazing duo in their mahi and in their giving to others,” he says.
Join the Wheke Fortress Instagram Page for updates @WhekeFortress
You can also donate at https://www.boosted.org.nz/projects/wheke-fortress