Nadine Anne Hura, who never considered herself an artist, reflects on what art and making has taught her.
I couldn’t clean or cook or wash the clothes, but I could sew. That’s a lie, I’m a terrible sewer, but I left work early to fossick around in the $1 bin of the fabric warehouse, searching for cast-offs to make clothes far beyond my skill level. I ignored the weeds choking the silverbeet in the garden and stepped over the dirty laundry in the hall on my way to make zines out of repurposed books salvaged from the tip.
At 4am, I watched a DIY screen printing video and by sun-up I was in the garage in my slippers and dressing gown wielding a cordless drill and a length of timber from an old frame. I tried my hand at lino etching. Book binding. Embroidery. Flower pressing. Stencil making. I ordered emulsifier and converted the garage into a dark room. I wandered aimlessly around art aisles as foreign as any country I have ever visited. I learned the names for materials I never even knew existed.
Eventually, the house became so jammed with projects I had to move the couch into storage in the neighbour’s garage. When that space was used up, rather than stop, rather than go to bed and have a rest, I borrowed a mate’s caravan and parked it on the lawn and turned it into a writing bungalow where I practised slam poetry and learned the ukulele.
I briefly took up salsa dancing, before finding a home at the local cossie club doing rock’n’roll with seniors. I stopped cooking and declared the kitchen a dance floor reserved for 50s music and the occasional bit of toast.
I taught my right-handed niece how to crochet and my left-handed niece how to knit. Together, we made a king-size blanket out of 12-inch blocks of scrap yarn. The only materials we used were those we already had in the house, including at least a dozen haphazard squares from formerly abandoned projects. We discarded nothing. Regardless of material or gauge or colour, everything was accepted. Even the fluoro. Even, god forbid, the acrylic.
When the squares were done, we pinned them out in the sun to dry over several consecutive days. Stitching the blanket together took four of us a total of seven hours – or 35 seconds in time lapse. As we sewed (mattress stitch, for those wondering) we listened to an audiobook that took us far away from our daily lives. We each became so engrossed in our own private stitches that we barely noticed the sun making its steady trek across the sky.
Hours slipped by, or perhaps it was months. The light made the shadows dance on the wall behind us, turning the chaos into a symphony. We lost the world from before and remade it different.
This is what grief taught me: that creating is the only true antidote to death. Whether stories, or art, or music, creating gives back what death takes away. The motion of the hands settles the rhythm of the heart. Creating is a rebellion against the futility of the quotidian, against the insult of waste. Art sees beauty everywhere, even in the fire that burned everything down.
When I finally had the courage to return to the funeral home to collect my brother’s ashes, the first thing I thought when the undertaker brought out a selection of boxes to choose from, was: I wonder how hard it is to carve a waka huia?
That’s a lie: my first thought was: how is it possible for all of my brother to fit inside a so-small box?
The word “art” is most often translated in te reo as toi, but I recently discovered that toi also means summit or point or pinnacle. That makes sense to me now, because art has a precision that even words don’t have. It has been my hands, not my heart or my mind, that has helped me navigate the sadness and grief and to take in the vastness of the landscape around me, as beautiful as it is harsh. Creating has kept me breathing and rising and moving and seeing.
Like mattress stitch, art is the outward expression of love that connects the living and the dead. No one is forgotten when stories are told and retold and carved and bound and stitched and woven and sung. Through the things we create, people live on, and on, and on.
Subscribe to The Bulletin to get all the day’s key news stories in five minutes – delivered every weekday at 7.30am.