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Scholarship winner drew inspiration from her Grandmother in new typeface for Aotearoa

A Māori graphic design student who has taken a bold new approach to a time-honoured art form is the winner of this year’s Bold Innovators Scholarship at Unitec.

Master of Creative Practice (MCP) student, Jaime Kapa (Tainui) won the annual scholarship, designed to support Masters graduates further a concept they’ve developed during their time at Unitec, with a new typeface that draws on her Māori and Chinese heritage.

“My project is grounded in the development of a typeface as a personal exploration in the space between oral history and typographic form,” said Jaime.

“Our whakapapa, the life-world of my maternal Grandmother, whose parents were Māori and Chinese, as well as our marae, are key sources of discovery, inspiration and influence in the typographic design process.”

Jaime’s typographical poster series is displayed in Unitec’s Gallery One, a space which Jaime described as ”my hybrid space between Māori and Pakeha.”

“It’s the Māori visual form that is most dominant for me,” said Jaime.  “This balance may not accurately reflect reality as it is, but it reflects a world that I hope can be realised in Aotearoa.  It’s about how language and people inhabit the land and occupy space.”

Dr Vanessa Byrnes, Head of the School of Creative Industries at Unitec, acknowledged the long wait for Jaime to receive her scholarship in a year disrupted by COVID-19 lockdowns.  “Good things take time,” she said. “The School is very privileged to have students like Jaime.”

“Her work demonstrates how the power of ink can reclaim the lost art of typography, and use its unique form to imprint on the mind and soul with impact.”

William Bardebes, one of Jaime’s supervisors on her Masters project, paid tribute to her commitment and dedication over a two-and-a-half year journey. “You have a purpose so important,” he said. “You’ve defined a form that speaks to hapu and iwi in a cyclone of letter-based excellence.

“You’ve created a lifelong journey – an authentic way for people to have a voice that was traditionally oral and is now on paper.”

 Gregor Steinhorn, Research Partner at Unitec’s Tuapapa Rangahau, said the scholarship is designed to support the spirit of innovation and enterprise among students. He says often the ideas are seeded from something that’s seemingly obvious, but it’s the twist that the students put on them that makes them unique. “We were very excited when we saw Jaime’s work – it combines a deep understanding of the craft of typography with kaupapa Māori,” he said. 

The potential for the growth of the concept will now be maximised with the ongoing support that the $12,000 scholarship offers – which Jaime is hoping will ultimately lead to the establishment of a type foundry in Auckland to develop unique Aotearoa typefaces.

“Establishing a type foundry will encourage other design creatives to learn the lost art of typography, and help give our ever-evolving history and culture typefaces which we can all identify with,” she said.

This is the third year that a Māori student has won the Bold Innovators Scholarship, and the third year running that the scholarship has been won by a Creative Industries student. Past winners have included Architecture students Reagan Laidlaw and Tuputau Lelaulu who together founded the MAU Studio; InkyCat ethical fashion label founder, Atarangi Anderson; and Performing and Screen Arts student Melissa Cameron who developed a circus theatre start-up.

Click here for more information about the Bold Innovators Scholarship.