“Leonie Ngahuia Mansbridge is a New Zealand born artist who has made her home right here in Western Australia. With a PHD under her belt, Leonie creates narrative-driven artwork that dives deep into issues around colonisation and identity.”
A wet, dreary autumn day had me on the road to Fremantle. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to venture out and drink coffee whilst talking with talented artists. (don’t worry, there’s still been plenty of coffee).
A glorious wall of brilliant artwork greeted me as I stepped foot in Leonie’s house. Both from artists who inspire and her own work. As I glanced left, I couldn’t help but notice a celebrated wall of books. Upon closer inspection, the books were all on Māori culture of New Zealand. As we entered further towards the coffee, a stunning stainless-steel table made a brilliant centrepiece. A sign stood proudly behind, “no phones in dining room at mealtimes please”. As the aroma of coffee filled the air, we headed upstairs to where the magic happens.
As we climbed the final step, I was greeted with a familiar sight, a sight I’ve come to love and admire. It was clearly an artist’s space, a place of organised chaos, where art just happens. For Leonie, art is another way of knowledge, a way of telling stories, stories that sometimes may be obvious, and other times you may need to dig a little deeper.
Leonie’s tribal affiliation is Ngāti Maniapoto in the King country (right in the middle of the North Island), Leonie journeyed to Australia after nursing school when she was about 19. It was in Western Australia where she met her now-husband, and she never left. It wasn’t until her late 40’s that she started thinking of herself, so she enrolled in the Claremont School of Art. Things didn’t really set in until a trip to Sydney with a friend. They went along to the Portia Geach Art Awards, which is where the penny dropped. She thought, I could do this.
Once the trip was over, she enrolled in Tafe, which gave her the foundations and skills for conceptual understanding. She completed the advanced diploma and then applied for Curtin, where she did her BA, going on to get to her honours (1st class). It was here where it all came together. Reflecting on her practice, it all revolved around injustice and how we measure people. A lot of her work included rulers’ measurements and Cuisenaire rods, as we as humans, measure people in all different ways, looks, colour, shape and not just height. From here on, she was in a place between belonging and not quite belonging. The coloniser and the colonised. After completing her masters, she opened a burger bar with her daughter but couldn’t shake the feeling to continue on and complete her PHD, so that’s exactly what she did.
Māori are connected to the land though their pepeha ( pepe ,Baby ha, breath). After spending a good hour listening to Leonie, it’s clear her connection to her land is still as strong as ever. Leonie reminisced on a story her dad once told her. He was 17 when he went to war, they all had to learn morse code, but he just couldn’t get his head around it. All he knew was Mary had a Little Lamb, which would have been helpful if he had needed to use it (not!). Morse code, at its simplest, is another language, another way of telling stories, a philosophy Leonie continues to use in her artwork.
Leonie’s latest work is based on taking back control and ownership of the land, with her works being framed in gold frames to symbolise colonisation, power and control. I’m excited to see what Leonie comes up with next
To stay up to date with where to see Leonies work please head to the following
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