Lissy Robinson-Cole is crafting a world of colour and joy with a little bit of magic and a whole lot of mahi
There’s not many people you could describe as a human ray of sunshine, but Lissy Robinson-Cole is one of them. The crochet queen is as radiant as her colourful mahi, which hang in abundance around her home in Tāmaki Makaurau. We chat to her ahead of her latest project, Wharenui Harikoa, a full-scale crocheted meeting house that is soon to go on a journey around the country, refracting tūpuna-inspired light across the sky and into hearts and minds.
When and how did you start crocheting?
I started crocheting in around 2017. I can’t remember what drove me to buy a crochet hook and wool, but I do feel that crochet found me. I learned how to crochet from YouTube and I was immediately obsessed with what you could create with a simple strand of wool and a hook.
What do you love about the process?
It is a process of pure joy for me. Seeing something come to life in full living colour truly makes my heart sing. The process can take me deep within myself where I find comfort talking to my tūpuna, or working through difficult times, or just the excitement of dreaming something and then bringing that from my dreamtime into this realm. The process symbolises connection. The act of crocheting is connecting loops and I can see why both Rudi and I have connected so deeply with the act of crochet as it loops us into a deeper connection to ourselves, and then connects us to people all over the world.
How do you go about exploring your whakapapa and mātauranga Māori in your work?
By being open to this journey of aroha through the act of crochet. Every day we are open to our tūpuna to leadus on this kaupapa and to reveal the mātauranga when we need it. It is connecting us to a deeper connection to our whānau, and our communities.
You describe yourself as “transforming intergenerational trauma into deeply felt joy, one crochet loop at a time.” Can you elaborate on that?
Our kaupapa is Ko Wharenui Harikoa he poro whakahakoko, Ko Uenuku tawhana ki te Rangi. Our mission has evolved to focus on manifesting intergenerational healing and deeply felt joy, one loop at a time. Connecting all people and igniting joy globally. Crochet is a soft medium, which acts like a portal that takes people to a memory and soft place within themselves as they remember a beloved nanny, aunty or uncle who has crocheted them something as a child. In that soft space they are open to receive aroha, healing and connection. We know that we are conduits for our tūpuna to express their aroha through us in our own unique ways. For us, it is through crochet and the ability to connect to many people where the light of our tūpuna can shine brightly.
You and your husband, Rudi Robinson, are no strangers to collaboration, especially when it comes to your biggest project to date, Wharenui Harikoa. What’s it like working together?
Working together is a total blessing. We knew very early on in our relationship that we had complementary skills and experiences, and that we loved creating together. Being able to create Wharenui Harikoa together is a miracle and a blessing, and is something we do not take for granted. It is taking us on an incredible journey that is looping us back to our identity as Māori and is opening up the way to meet and collaborate with many other amazing artists. Rudi and I have our roles within our practice and we both just get on with what we have to do separately to make our mahi. We collaborate and discuss form, design, colours, and concepts together, and then we get on with the creating.
There’s a huge sense of variety in your crochet work, which covers everything from cars to chandeliers to a tino rangatiratanga flag. What’s been your favourite piece to make?
Everything we make has been a wonderful experiment. Our crochet car – The Joy Ride was such a joy to make and to drive around. We received so much love for our little bomb. The tino rangatiratanga flag was created in collaboration with artist Leilani Kake for the 125 Suffrage Fund. It is a powerful statement of our own self determination. For me, every loop in the crocheted tino rangatiratanga flag represented unity, it represented the strength of our people, it represented us all arm in arm with one another. I also love covering and bringing joy to our spaces with fun projects like chandeliers and lamps, and hall stands as well as blankets and wall hangings.
What do you hope people think or feel when they view your work?
Aroha, joy, wonder, hope, healing, fun, excitement, peace, curiosity, desire and safety.
What advice do you have for other artists in Aotearoa?
Be yourself and know your power as an artist to change the world, to inspire and connect to so many people. The power of being able to manifest something from your dream time to this realm is so powerful. The power to heal through art is something to not take lightly. Believe and tap into your own unique destiny through the connection to tūpuna and wairua.
Do you have any exciting news or exhibitions coming up?
We are working very hard on completing Wharenui Harikoa in time for Matariki. We are also excited to be having an exhibition at the Tim Melville Gallery this July.
How can people view and support your amazing art?
We have a ‘Buy a Ball’ campaign where people can sponsor a ball of wool for Wharenui Harikoa and where they have the opportunity to let us know why they support our kaupapa. People can check our website for more details – and we also take commissions for our mahi.
Words by: Caroline Moratti. Photography by: Babiche Martens