Jon Jeet is an artist of Maniapoto / Fijian Indian descent with a Masters in painting from Ilam School of Fine Arts, Canterbury. He is a registered Ngāi Tahu carver. Jeet is well known for his carved ‘Toki', also known as pounamu necklaces. He also makes sculptures and earrings. Jon has spent over a decade honing this craft, carving taonga (a treasured keepsake). He finds that the toki in particular encapsulate the mauri (essence) of ones being and therefore become a vessel to retain and harbour part of ones life force.

 

When cutting into the original pounamu, the meditative sound of the grinder against the stone sets up a rhythm for Jeet, and he says,“time stops and you are just one with that stone.” Next comes the process of sanding, coarsely and then finely, to bring out the wairua (spirit) of the stone. He then places small wedges at each side on which to place the beautifully plaited cord. Generally given rather than bought, wearing a piece of Jeet’s pounamu (Toki or earrings) is an honour. Says Jet of the stone, "Just looking at it, there is that myriad of colours and imagery, that abstract imagery that you find in the raw stone whilst you're shaping it. When it leaves this place, someone is going to look at this and revere it and regard it as taonga.”

 

As well as his art practice, Jeet is an art teacher who brings the joy of painting, carving , printmaking, sculpture and drawing to many Canterbury tamariki and he is open to anyone seeing the process. "I think we tend to commodify this a lot in New Zealand, so it's nice to just use it as a learning and healing tool.”

In his own practice however, Jeet has also used pounamu in a more sculptural form. The work, He Achuelian Angaanga, 2017, is a stunning skull carved and polished from a large greenstone piece. Its colours and title refer to the archaeological history of human stone tool manufacturing defined by oval and pear shaped “hand-axes”. ‘A grade’ kawakawa was sourced from Ngāi Tahu pounamu and this is a kaupapa (work) he supports and believes in strongly. The two hapu Kati Waewae and Makaawhio are the stone people, the kaitaiki (guardians) of this resource, this treasure, whose  bones are from the West Coast of Te Wai Pounamu, our South Island for which it is named.

 

Similarly, Jeet draws on the tradition of self portrait by referencing the older tradition of Maori shrunken heads or Mokomokai as it is known. Mokomokai were an important tradition in Maoritanga of preserving the heads of important elders and loved ones. In this profound work, simply called Hone (Jon in Māori), we see a portrait of Jeet carved in pounamu. The closed eyes and mouth sewn shut with harakeke (flax) reflects the tradition of sealing the orifices of the shrunken heads when drying out with gum or harakeke. Yet here, Jeet also references the injustice inflicted by the English colonisers to the Māori and the racism that still exists in Aotearoa. To take these shrunken heads and sell them as commodities, and also to rob Maori of their voice, devalues their culture, identity and spirituality.

 

Similarly, in Jeet’s woodcut practice, the work ‘Art New Zealand volume 28-33’ 2020 (finalist for the Parking drawing prize), references the heads of many European faces represented in the New Zealand art magazine. Yet in another woodcut titled, I know this to be true, visual contents page, 2019, Jeet makes the point that not all notable portraiture or faces in our pictorial lexicon are Pakeha. By his fine mark making, sculptural and carving skills, Jeet is celebrating the true history of New Zealand, where our country’s tangata whenua are central to the stories of our land.