Dunedin seems to be an ideal place for creative people to flourish. One of those who is getting her name out there is Aroha Novak. Born and raised in Dunedin, Aroha is part Maori (Tuhoe, Ngati Kahngungu and Ngaiterangi), part Czech and a little bit of everything else.
Aroha had always practised Art and Music throughout High School. However, after taking a year's travel after finishing High School to help determine what she wanted to do in life, she decided to pursue a degree in Music at Otago University. Here she was learning performance based music and Opera styled singing but soon realised that she spent more time drawing than practising her Music. After this realisation, Aroha changed from studying Music to pursue a Degree in Art at the Dunedin School of Art.
At this stage of her life she was having fun, engaging in the street culture of art. Aroha liked to Tag and worked on bigger Bomb's / Throws. After studying for four years, Aroha graduated from the Dunedin school of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Here she got right into the art of sculpture (big sculpture), her final piece being a giant pink space rocket that was accompanied by a music track.
While studying, Aroha took to the theoretical side of her craft. She dived deep, in the theory, and wanted to take a critical viewpoint of the world. To try and look at things with a different perspective. Not just accepting everything as the status quo. Aroha states on her website that she, "constantly interrogates issues of escapism through various media as well as social, political and economic inequality still prevalent in contemporary society."
On completion of her degree, Aroha had her first kid that heavily influenced her Artwork. She started making things that kids would relate to, one example being the baby tanks.
In 2013, Aroha started her Masters where she took her family with her to Prague for four months on an art exchange. Here she found the teaching and focus to be significantly different to that of New Zealand. In New Zealand, the course content is heavily theory based. They encourage you to absorb as much information as you can. Whereas, in Europe the school she attended was heavily focused on the craft. Here they encouraged her to practise her craft in an attempt to master it.
Aroha managed to complete her Master of Fine Arts with Distinction and since then has been trying to exhibit at least once a year. Currently, she is in her words, "working my arse off." Her current focus is working on the Mid-Winter Carnival, where she is working on a massive giant lantern. But more recently, she has been working on large-scale murals and youth projects. Aroha has formed a co-op called Stickum with a friend. The duo focuses their energy on getting the youth to engage in their environment in a different kind of way.
Last year, the duo worked with 70 youth alongside the Malcam Charitable Trust and 12 other youth organisations to paint a giant mural in South Dunedin. A hugely successful project that is going to be followed up by another one this year.
This move to public art for Aroha is about taking the Art School mentality mentioned earlier and put it into the public realm. Taking a critical thought and giving it to the public as a way to open a dialogue. To ask a question and get people to think a little about their environment, economic policies or whatever is happening around them. Aroha believes there is so much of that kind of activity happening that we have become accustomed to it and we usually just let it slide.
Another drive that Aroha is passionate about is equality. She describes that she is constantly revisiting this area in her work, as well as being conflicted with the economic system we live in called Capitalism. The big problem being that you need to make a living to survive, but it goes against every kind of creative grain in everyone's practise.
Aroha's work is very thought provoking and crosses a number of mediums. In her modest words she is, "a jack of all trades, master of none." I highly recommend checking out her work and keeping an eye out for any upcoming exhibitions where her work is featured.
Aroha has the Youth Week project happening in May that will be worth following up. She will also be exhibiting in an Invercargill gallery in June, as well as, a project with the Blue Oyster Gallery that is coming up in September / October.
Her focus is to work towards larger shows and to exhibit more in public galleries. She calls Dunedin home with no plans on leaving. She enjoys the lifestyle this place provides herself and her family and the creative community that supports her work.