Music artist TEEKS' story told through augmented reality showcase, first-ever Māori artist to do so

Music artist TEEKS is one of five national iconic artists who are part of a curated street museum that will be showcased across the country.

The exhibit is the first of its kind in Aotearoa, allowing audiences to have an immersive experience with the artist and their untold stories.

A virtual experience like no other with the use of headphones and an app.

Users are able to experience Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi - best known as TEEKS - in augmented reality of a wharenui, a meeting house.

He's the first-ever Māori music artist to do this.

"Tino Waimarie, I runga I te ngakau iti, te ngakau maori, e mihi ana ki te hunga nei kua pohi mai i tenei, tenei tama no roto o Nga Puhi, roto o Tauranga Moana," he said. 

("I'm very lucky, and humbled. I feel so fortunate and truly thank those involved in this project and supporting this boy from Ngāpuhi and Tauranga Moana.")

The soulful singer shot to fame in 2017 with his voice described as 'deep and smooth as butter' and even Vogue magazine referred him to as the male Adele.

Despite his rise to stardom, it's his whakapapa, his cultural identity that grounds him, and it's this ancestral realm that he wanted captured through augmented reality (AR) so that the public can feel, experience and connect to his Māori culture.

"Whakatere i ngā ngaru o te kare a roto i konei kia mārama kia mōhio ai ki te oranga kei roto i tēra. Kia tukuna i aua mea katoa i roto i te ngākau ki roto i te wairua."

("It's a way to better understand Māoridom and delve deeper into things like emotions, and spirituality.")

The creative process took three months with TEEKS collaborating with Māori visual artists at Colenso BBDO. 

The inspiration came from motifs and pattern systems from traditional carvings from TEEKS' own marae.

They include carvings by master carver Dr Paki Harrison whose nephew Sam Bailey has kept the family tradition alive by transforming the physical Māori art to AR.

"There are no masters really yet, solidified in the sort of AR world and so Sonya and I got to have fun and think about ya know, they unleashed so how do we unleash and how do we have fun and how do we honour TEEKS and his pakiwaitara - (his stories) with that."

Pakiwaitara - stories untold by TEEKS which he hopes audiences will enjoy.

"Tukuna kia tangi tukuna kia kata tukuna aua tuahuaatanga katoa a roto i te tinana, kia whai oranga."

("I want people to surrender their emotions bring out the tears, the laughs and emotions. There is real solice in all of that.”)

An ancient artistry adapting to the most modern of art forms.

The AR experience

Based on Wakahuia and Papahou (delicate carved treasure boxes) Māori visual artists Sonya Milford of Ngāti Hāmoa, Ngāti Kahungungu Ki Wairoa and Sam Bailey of Ngāti Porou Ki Harataunga, Ngāti Huarerehave looked at how subtle line work and notching within toi whakairo (carving) can honour the Ringapūoro (musician) to create a design language that although is simple & subtle, is emotive, meaningful & nostalgic.

"By referencing unaunahi (fish scales) we have tried to honour the Hokianga and Te Tai Tokerau. The spear shape of the fish scales creates a sense of navigation for the user to follow, as the unaunahi faces the direction the whare is lit up in as they travel," said Bailey.

In TEEKS'' exhibit, he invites viewers through a portal to share the experience that singing unlocks for him.

TEEKS is surrounded by darkness, and as he performs, we see a whare magically build around him, representing the deep connection to his ancestors he feels when he sings.

The whare design is also inspired by anime to capture TEEKS' affinity to The Avatar Legend of Aang, honouring the likeness of the 'Avatar State' to TEEKS' own 'flow state' and a Te Ao Māori understanding of Te Here Tāngata, Te Aho and Te Whare Wānanga.

TEEKS shares his process through restraint, karakia, movement and song. When TEEKS surrenders to creativity, it feels as though he is within a whare wānanga - a place of ascension and enlightenment. This intimate offering acknowledges that through Whakapapa, our creative potential is waiting to be unlocked.

The Spark 5G Street Museum will be free and open to the public across the streets of Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland), Ōtepoti (Dunedin), Ōtautahi (Christchurch) and Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Wellington).

This article is part of Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air