Ārai: breaking beyond – Catalogue essay

image

I don’t remember the first day I entered into an institution, but I do know that it was before I was born. I was held captive in my mother’s womb, herself held captive, a prisoner of ‘norms’ about the difference between good mothers and Māori mothers. I have been institutionalised ever since, as a way to educate me about what I need to do to be a good Māori.

One day I’ll learn…

Of course, the institution doesn’t really know because it has become far too insular. The institution with all its knowing is forgetful like dementia. The institution has forgotten that it’s held up by Māori whenua, the blood and bones of my tūpuna. Apparently I’m supposed to care about a language they speak in England, some German guy’s ideas, or some Dutchman’s art that he made whilst visiting my cousins around the Moana, the whole time appropriating their forms and calling it some new art movement. Theinstitution forgets. It forgets its manners all the time too, and tells me that the theory in my timeless body of whakapapa is just some story. Well institution, research is story too, but when the institution story-tells research and theory, its intent is to control. The institution forgets that we’ve always known what it’s been up to. It’s time for you, institution, to learn
some better stories.

I want to learn about me, and I should be allowed to in Aotearoa institutions.In the 1980s Baudrillard wrote about simulacra¹, describing everything as a re-hash of an originality long since
dead. Baudrillard said that our bleak world of pastiche realities isn’t even real anymore, but instead it’s a simulacrum of a truth so distant that everything’s a lie.

Well the truth is, the institution’s a lie.

And that’s what I enjoy about the work of Aimee Ratana, Margaret Aull and Zena Elliott, all three artists are
assertive about remembering beyond the lies. Aimee Ratana remembers the resistance asserted by her tūpuna.
Through her making, Aimee disrupts the lie that wahine Māori have been passive recipients of patronising domestic knowledge. Aimee asserts ways that an intimate connection with materials helps our bodies to remember truths about our inner workings. Aimee re-images reality, but instead of Baudrillard’s empty simulacrum, she recreates pathways to our eternal selves – our most empowered and activist Hinenuitepo self who protects, nurtures and guides the continuance of whakapapa Māori. Margaret Aull remembers too, she remembers beyond the lie that before colonisation Māori could never journey the distance of oceans traversed by her tūpuna, the meetings of their memories her embodiment. In her assemblages and paintings, Margaret practices the mapping of terrains, opening portals between the profound and lost, helping Māori towards rangatiratanga. Margaret is a navigator, her artworks guiding us back to our Hinetitama wonderment, where between the sacred and mundane we remember how enlivening it is to experience the freshness of the world, free of rebar and rust. Trust in being is the remembrance offered by Zena Elliott, her paintings remind us that we have the power to find ourselves in the seemingly confused world we occupy as Māori today. Zena’s paintings signal the convergence of past and future within our bodies and our dynamic ability to form, shape and beautify any space we choose for life. Zena’s artworks ask us to remember that within our urban landscapes we can escape the gridlock constraints — our beating Hineahuone hearts alive in colour, twinkling light and rhythmic movement.

Ārai speaks of obstructions, hinderances, barricades, blockages, barriers and insulating influences. The artists exhibiting work in this show argue that this is the context for mainstream arts education in Aotearoa. Through their works they describe the sense of frustration loss and fragmentation they have experienced as Māori art students, where they often fought faculty to express Māori forms and knowledge. The denial of a person’s identity within creative studies must surely have a detrimental impact, but for all three artists the assertion of Māoritanga uplifted them during their haerenga as tauira at Wintec.

The wero for mainstream education in Aotearoa today is to adopt new foundations. The outcome of such an education can only be generations of people living in our country, with strong and grounded identities. Aull, Elliott and Ratana argue for an arts education in Aotearoa that grows first from Māori knowing, where Māori forms, practices and knowledge are valued, respected and assist in evolving practices of Aotearoa life realness. Without the solidity of truly knowing and relating to place, a violating colonial intent continues for all arts students in Aotearoa.

Taina Pohatu² speaks of mātauranga, knowledge continuum from a Māori perspective, where rather than the emptiness of simulacra expressed by Baudrillard, a boundless future is supported by an expansive network of understandings. Mātauranga takes for granted the repeated generational patterns embodied in each person, allowing for firmly rooted individual and diverse expression. Rather than an Aotearoa arts education that inhibits, controls and regulates, the artwork in this show encourages us to cultivate a world of creative fullness and depth.

Dr. Tāwhanga Mary-Legs Nopera

1. Baudrillard, J. (1968). The system of objects. In M. Poster (Ed.).(1988). Jean Baudrillard: Selected writings, (pp.10-28). Redwood City: Stanford University Press.

2. Pohatu, T. (2018). Ka noho au i konei ka whakaaro noa — Tracing potential in Tīpuna experiences. Keynote presented at Kare-ā-roto: Decolonising emotions and thought space wānanga, Waikato-Tainui College for Research
and Development, Hopuhopu.

Haka

I got a letter from the University last week to confirm that I have fully completed all aspects of my PhD… weird, somehow life has just amped up to the nth degree and a new norm has morphed into being without me really acknowledging the change. I had an old friend visit from London a few weeks ago. Her and I used to live in Melbourne together, when I was a complete fucked up on alcohol and drugs lost soul. It was very healing to have her visit and spend time, but on one occasion she mentioned that I kind of brush off the significant kinds of work I do…

PrEP has been fully funded by Pharmac in Aotearoa – I’ve had a few TV interviews about it recently. I did a lot of research and made a submission to Pharmac to ensure that Trans men were included, because in Pharmac’s initial draft proposal, they had left Trans men out. I’ve written two publications in the last few weeks and will finalise another today. I did a guerrilla performance the other week in front of about 20,000 people and then last weekend, I performed with relations as part of our regional kapa haka comps. I definitely looked the part getting my haka on. I got asked to deliver a keynote presentation at a big sexual health conference happening at the end of this year in Auckland. Someone else asked me last week to deliver a workshop on Māori perspectives of gender and sexual diversity, and also the summary presentation at another sexual health conference. The director of a national art institution in Aotearoa has pitched my performance work to be included as part of the International Indigenous Art exhibition to be held at the National Gallery of Canada next year. A friend told me he was at an exhibition in another city and saw that someone had cited my research to describe the context of their artwork.

Doing this kind of stuff and engaging at this level has become my norm…I don’t even question my ability to do it anymore.

I’m studying full-time this year. I’m studying in a total immersion reo Māori program so that I can finally speak my language. Over the past two weeks of course I have sat on my laptop writing research whilst being actively engaged in class. People keep asking me what I’m doing and I just say “work”. It’s cos I’m working full-time as well as studying full time. I feel like I am thriving, and to be honest, I look pretty damn hot for a 42 year old…still no wrinkles and still getting asked for ID when I buy liquor.

It’s funny-peculiar how life changes. It’s like the whole of the last 5 years didn’t happen.

I wonder what life will be like during the next 5 years?