Tawhanga

Tawhanga

I am in my supervisor’s studio today in Davis. She is a Professor in Native American Studies at UC Davis. I am extremely lucky to have the PhD committee I do, all three of them are extremely incredible, which I suppose says a lot about my ability to surround myself with strength.

I have already written about how strange the past few months have been for me… lots of change to deal with and struggle against, or fall into.

The tides have changed, and I am beginning to feel that in many respects, they have indeed changed forever.

A few years ago whilst doing my MFA, I realised that rather than being gay, I am a feminine presence inhabiting a masculine body. Today, I completely reject being described as gay and in fact, I find it offensive.

Part of my PhD journey is to use my creative practice to reformulate my gendered sense of self. It has been difficult, because even though I have a beautiful masculine body that requires little maintenance in order to stay looking quite gorgeous, I have hated it. I have always looked in the mirror and found fault everywhere. In the past few years I have begun to reprogram my mind to love my body, and to see it as something I should nurture and enjoy. It is not easy to live with such extreme dysmorphia, but I tend to think that the commodified reality we live within, body dysmorphia is more common than it should be.

Over the past few years, I have been engaged in a process of gender reassignment. I can’t foresee that I will traumatise my body through surgery, not because I fear, but because I am beginning to love my body as it is. This means, that in order for me to reassign my gender, I need to engage in a process where I commit to my gendered mind as feminine, and my gendered body as masculine, and thus, recontextualise the world around me in order for people to know that I am equally feminine and masculine at once. I suppose my intent is to create a space for a third type of gender. I don’t really believe that my mind and body are of separate genders, but rather I simply accept social dogma concerning gender and the body. Until now of course.
In order for me to do this, I have embarked on a journey of self-love. It started in 2011, after spending time on a commercial salmon fishing boat in Alaska. Not long afterward I was invited to a sweat lodge, and prayed to my ancestors to help me love myself. It was the only prayer I had, and at first the Medicine person was surprised. I figured that if I could love myself, then I could achieve anything, and that if I could achieve anything, then I would be able to do good work for myself and the people I care about in this life.

The strangeness I have experienced over the past few months is part of that process, because I fell into the trap of constantly subordinating the person I am committing to being. It’s interesting how loving another person, can often mean not loving ourselves. Love can be a trap, because we want others to love us, but because everyone searches so hard for external sources of love, nobody is really loving themselves. As a result, we live in a loveless world.

It is the equinox, a time to restore balance. For me, being gender balanced, times like the present are important. These are the times when it is impossible to escape internal conflicting self-dialogues. It can be a nightmare, because to follow my masculine and emotional-self leaves me feeling battered; to follow my logical and often cold feminine-self leaves me feeling devoid of anything.

I have come to the conclusion that the only way forward is to leave my body to feel whatever it needs, and my mind to compute itself to stillness. In the between space, sanity prevails, because really, there is no separation between body and mind. The dualism described by Descartes is a myth, the body is the mind and the mind is the body.
Today I am writing a paper. I have been writing it for what seems like an eternity, and the whole time I have been battling the tension of inner conflict. I keep switching between still ability, and fidgety torment, but today am feeling more like the person I am becoming.

This blog is a place for me to track my process. As an artist I am selfish, in that I make work to help me process my reality. I know I have an audience and I know that people enjoy what I create, but my work is in truth for an audience of one. If I do not create I die. I have posted a resolved work on this blog today, and it is titled ‘Tawhanga’, which is my name. I have posted it here, because although it is a resolved artwork, it is part of another process.

I enjoy this digital artwork because I when I look at it I see myself looking directly back at me. Normally, my self-portraits are in profile or three-quarter profile as a reference to my great-great-grandfather, Tene Waitere. He was a master carver of my tribe, and is regarded as the first Maori carver to enter the global market. He was also the first carver to carve in three-quarter profile. He forever changed my tribes carving style and his powerful influence began the trajectory toward contemporary Maori art aesthetics.

Actually, he engaged in a lot of firsts and created the pathway I now walk.

I follow a good path, and create my own.

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