Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

Te Haerenga • The Journey


The inspiration for this piece was the journey to Australia for me and my family. Thinking back to ancient times when my ancestors braved the ocean elements and traversed the mighty Pacific Ocean in their waka (canoes) — such an incredible feat even in this day and age. The lack of technology was no misfortune for them as their knowledge of the stars and sea currents was immense making them great navigators. They were totally in tune with the environment and the spirit world and would often call on certain entities to help guide them along the way. These were called kaitiaki (guardians) and would sometimes take the form of sea creatures such as the whale. It is the whale form that I chose to represent my journey to Australia.

Although we can now travel in a fraction of the time and in the comforts of sophisticated aircrafts, we still would like to feel safe and assured. The idea of having a kaitiaki accompanying us in some way or form is a welcoming notion especially when going to an unfamiliar land. To uplift my family and move to a foreign place was an extremely difficult decision to make, particularly when you have such a strong connection to your homeland and your people. It was like pulling up the roots of a tree that was firmly seated into the whenua (land). This was emphasized to me when I began to carve Te Haerenga.

The wood that I used for this carving was a piece of swamp tōtara that I took with me to Australia. As I was working the piece I noticed it began to crack right down the center which I thought was unusual for such a dry piece of wood. Then I started to think, it was as if the wood itself was reminding me of exactly how I felt about this big change in my life. Half of me wanted to take on new challenges and experiences while the other half was very much holding fast to what I knew best and where I was most comfortable. Now that we are back in Aotearoa the crack healed, and all I can say is that the move for us was a good change and an opportunity for my children to explore another place and understand other cultures. It also makes you appreciate where you come from that much more and I’m now happy to say “it’s good to be home”!

—Todd Couper

Todd Couper

Todd Couper


Ngāti Kahungunu

(1974- )

Todd attended Te Aute Boys College in Hawkes Bay from 1987 to 1991 and quickly excelled in art. In 1995, he completed the Diploma of Art, Craft and Māori Design at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua; he majored in woodcarving/sculpture and graduated with honours. It was during this time that he met Roi Toia, who was teaching there. Roi, impressed with his talent, invited Todd to apprentice with him. They continue to work together, but Todd has forged his own style and direction in carving, with commissioned pieces residing in collections in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. He participated in Kiwa: Pacific Connections (2003) in Vancouver, Canada.