Seasons turn and tides change, rearrange the strange fictions and retell the stories… burn away the deadening to make way for new growth.
I haven’t written in ages, you’ll already know that.
But what you won’t know is that everything has changed.
I’ve been sheltering storms in a cocoon, under the fullest moon making myself anew. I can speak fluently in my native tongue now, i te reo Māori. It is something I have yearned for my whole life, and now that my language has infiltrated my whole body I feel that I am reborn.
I am a different person to the person I was and as I sit in my office looking at the many images and memories of my past, it is easy to see the long-held aspiration for mana motuhake. I am a different person. I am not broken anymore.
Sway, like the trees in the breeze, like throngs in the midst of a song long loved by all, the fall came, I cracked, I died and was buried. In the soil our mother encrusted me in salt and the weight of her heavy heaving heart crushed my soul into a river of the dead. I intermingled with the multitudes of dearly departed divas, dapper dandy’s, daddies, daughters, devils, demons, decrepit degenerates all. We eddied and pooled in the push and pull of sorrow until our well-worn worries disintegrated into dreams of desires unheard of.
Yes, I have my own office. I have pinned collected colours to the wall, surrounding myself with the work already done. It all signals the journey, ka hīkoi au ki te tino moemoeā nui, ko te whainga nui o tōku nohonga i te ao nei. Māku e aroā nei i tōku tino aronga, ka uru atu au ki korā, hei whangai, hei āki, ōtira, hei mahi. Kei te ora tonu ahau.
This is day 5 of my new job. I completed my year long immersion reo Māori program the week before last, and then after a few days rest during which I celebrated by 43rd birthday and my nephew Taumauri’s 21st, I have turned to the rest of my life. Mā tāku mahi hou, ka riro māku e kimi nei i ngā huarahi pai mō nga tauira takatāpui nāna rātou ka haere mai ako ai i te Whare Wānanga o Waikato. The University of Waikato had created a new permanent position for someone to develop and implement diversity strategies that can enhance the wellness of all students and staff, in particular supporting those who live gender and sexuality diverse lives. I have a blank canvas on which to begin painting my vision of hope. Because it is a new position, it is for me to apply my expertise. It is for me to decide the best ways forward. The past week has been amazing, people are very eager to meet me and discuss their ideas and I realise that I have never been alone in my thoughts and hopes for peace. I can do this work, it was created for me to fulfill
I have begun to upload as much of my past artwork that I can find to this space. Over the past year I invested all of my creative energy into te akonga o te reo Māori nei. I will write in the future about the positive aspects of learning to reo Māori, to debunk the myth that it has little value in today’s world. Ki tāku nei whakaaro, it is a language that can help heal people today so that we may work together to heal our mother Papatūānuku. The language is so embodied, when I speak now my whole body vibrates with positive energy. It has been good to look at the memories and acknowledge how much work I have done. Now that I have filled my empty heart, I have the energy to make again and in the coming months I will create works for exhibitions which have been funded. In the 15 years of my creative practice these are the first instances where I have received public funding to make art. I have never needed money to make powerful and beautiful art, but I am excited to see what can happen with a budget.
The work I have been doing is wholly spiritual, although it manifests i te whai ao, the physical world. I am going somewhere that I cannot perceive, but it is a warm place filled with aroha.
Peace be the journey xxx
Can I kick it…yes you can, can I kick it, yes yes you can!
A Tribe Called Quest knows the question and the answer. I’m still struggling with both. It’s 1.30am and I’m sitting in the international terminal at Auckland airport. It’s been a while since I’ve sat at an airport waiting for the city to wake up…5 hours till I can leave and counting. Urgh!!! I’ll still have another 5 hours travel by bus after that till I can sleep in my own bed again…
I had a bit of a debacle in arranging travel, thinking that I was supposed to be in Auckland for a meeting tomorrow/later this morning. It got cancelled, so instead of spending the night in a hotel in Sydney with a flight back to Rotorua I’ve ended up in airport waiting land again. It’s been a while, I shouldn’t complain…but I’m fucking tired.
I’ve been at ASHM, the annual sexual health meeting in Australia. As usual it was overly white, overly clincal, overly the same as the structural spaces that clinicians and researchers usually occupy. I had been invited to attend and present at a special satellite symposium organised by NAPWHA, the national association of people living with HIV and AIDS in Australia. I was one of four presenters speaking on Indigenous peer responses to HIV, myself and two others speaking from the perspective of people living with HIV. It’s always powerful to speak on this topic because the World Health Organisation has set global targets to end HIV. The strategy is to have 95% of all people who are HIV positive tested, 95% of those tested on treatment and 95% of people from at risk communites on PrEP, a drug which if taken every day will protect them from contracting HIV. If governments can reach those targets by 2030, we can end HIV in this lifetime. The problem for marginalised communites is that we are the 5% of acceptable losses, we are the gaps and we are really the only ones with the solutions to close those gaps. But of course, we’re brown, black, poor, remote and an ongoing issue because we want our land and resources back. It’s hard to influence when you’re right at the bottom, even with a PhD.
I believe HIV was part of an intentional plan to control and remove particular populations from existence, it’s too perfect a virus to not be of a design, especially when you read the WHO strategy to end it. It’s written in economic terms where if the targets are met by 2030, the global investment in HIV becomes profitable. For every year over 2030 that these targets are not met, the profit margins decrease significantly. That’s the selling point for the WHO to ensure that governments back the strategy. It’s fucking sick that this whole response is about money, rather than ensuring millions and millions and millions of people don’t die hideous deaths.
Even though I do good work in the sector, and it is good for the spirit to share my knowledge that can help people, it takes a lot out of me. The sexual health sector is highly vulnerable to funding shifts and cuts, even when programs work. Because of this the whole sector is insecure, with organisations pitted against each other to retain their funding and prove the worth of their outcomes. More often than not when I do work in the HIV sector I don’t get paid and it costs me money. I was glad at this conference that NAPWHA made sure that breakfast was included with my accomodation and that I was able to attend networking dinners if I wished, lucky, because living the student life for another 5 months I’m broke as fuck. I’d never pay for myself to get to one of these conferences. I’m lucky that the past three ASHMs I’ve been to now, travel and accomodation is paid for by the orgs that invite me.
But it’s a constant battle working in the sector. Governments really don’t give a fuck about sexual health. Doctors and researchers don’t like being told by brown people they don’t know our communites so how the hell do they think they can figure out strategies to help us. And the white gay male population who run the orgs that receive the lion’s share of funding don’t like to be challenged on their racism, their transphobia and the fact that the many heterosexual women living with HIV are as invisible as the brownies, blackies and the trannies who also live with HIV.
I’m really tired of work in this sector. The focus is constantly on strategies to fix the structural barriers, when all the evidence says the real issue is the ingrained phobic society we’ve inherited from Europe. Apparrently that’s too big to address, so we stay on the roundabout of always trying to make the structure work better. Of course, the structures we live with were designed by people who were only interested in maintaining their excesses…they’re inherently oppressive structures, top-down works perfectly for those at the decision making top.
On my flight home I watched a documentary on Lee ‘Alexander’ McQueen, an incredible HIV positive artist in fashion. Watching it I kept thinking to myself, “I’m a powerful maker of beautiful messages in art…what am I doing investing all of my power in these fuuuuuuuuuuuucked structures. I constantly feel anxiety, stress and disappointment in the work I’m doing. Alexander McQueen would have been a few years older than me were he still alive today. He ended his own life, such a foul waste. Even though he created such incredible beauty, inspired often by death and darkenss, he hurt a lot. I know what that’s like, I really do, but I’m not allowed to end my own life anymore.
When I make art I feel powerful, in charge and heard.
I think the Equinox is pulling me away from the sexual health work I have been doing, and is helping me to fully return to my practice. I didn’t do a PhD to work as an academic. I did a PhD to help hone my creative analytical skills and extend my ability to make. I did a PhD to gain a tool that could enable me to make without challenge. I’ve exhibited and done performance work this year, but it has been all old work. Since I finished my PhD I haven’t felt inspired to make and in the past year I have only made three kete, and have made no digital images nor video. I haven’t painted and although I’ve scribbled, there’s no real drawing happening. It hurts to not feel the passion I have always had to create because its the thing that has sustained me at my lowest, it got me through and not only that, I love to make art. When I am making art, it’s impossible for others to pretend I don’t exist and I am able to change the ways people see the world.
I used to think I could do structural work in the academy, governance and social structures as well as have a thriving practice, but I’m beginning to think they are too at odds. To do structural work I have to perform in particular ways, maintain a perception of professionalism and often submit to the structure. It makes me doubt myself and I feel oppressed by it. To make art, I just have to be myself, it makes me feel free and alive.
I need to live…
Flashback to youth, I miss the lack of knowing, the ignorance, the presence.
It feels sometimes like I’ve rationalised myself to oblivion.
I found this pic on my best friend’s fridge, from 96. Holy shit I had only just turned 20 then… Today still poor, still a student, still black, less drunk though.
“When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, what would I be… ”
Still tryna figure that out. Maybe today will have an answer.
Yesterday as I served plates of food to waiting people seated at rows of tables, my relations feasting the life of another dearly departed, I realised I’m living the dream. A lot of people dream of a return to whenua, a return to their papakāinga, a whānau life spent trying to collectively heal from deadened pasts.
Academia can wait, maybe it can wait forever.
I see abundance in this life of changing centres. I try to feel good, I try to be good. Goodness knows…
Whakapapa is generally translated as genealogy, although can be understood in many different ways. Whakapapa can mean to lie flat, to place in layers, to recite in order; or considered in parts as ‘whaka’ – cause to be, to become; and ‘papa’ which can mean – the Earth, or anything broad flat and hard. In te reo Māori ’papa’ has many meanings associated with ideas of ground, site and layer. Papatūānuku, often shortened to Papa, is the female personification of Earth. The word ‘kaupapa’ can mean the woven foundation for a cloak and has the figurative meaning of a platform or purpose. ‘Whakapapa’ has a literal meaning of placing things in layers. That extends figuratively to reciting genealogical links in their proper order and from there to the word for ‘genealogy’.
Whakapapa is a critical cultural foundation for understanding who you are, where you come from, where and who you belong to.
Whakapapa helps Māori people keep memories alive over aeons, through practices of re-storying our lives. Through whakapapa, I am always able to locate myself at the core of my accumulated experiences, even though at times I can feel fragmented and disoriented. Whakapapa resists marginalisation and centres identity, because I can see the ‘today’ of my life through the lens of many generations – I can see the bigger picture. Te Ātiawa, Ngāti Māhanga and Ngāti Māhanga ā Tairi activist and social theorist Leonie Pihama asserts whakapapa as an analytic tool, employed by Māori to understand how we relate in the world . Whakapapa connects Māori to every aspect of existence – when I make art I use whakapapa to re-image lived experiences of marginality many different (but also the same) globalised contexts.
First Nations Coast Salish author, writer and critic Lee Maracle writes about colonialism and its impact on Indigenous bodies when she writes, “Native women and some Native men know full well that what is abnormal is very often natural. Internalized racism is the natural response to the unnatural condition of racism” . Similarly, the Brazilian critical theorist Paolo Freire writes about internalisation as a core function of colonisation. He points out that with so much energy invested in storing, remembering and performing colonial ways to be, criticality is denied, as well as the ability to transform worlds of oppression . In Black skin white masks, the Martinique philosopher Frantz Fannon writes:
“[e]very colonized people – in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality – finds itself face to face with the language of the civilizing nation … The colonized is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country’s cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his blackness, his jungle”. From the inside out, colonialism infects bodies with negativity, self-doubt, self-incrimination, depression and fear. Art-making helps elevate me beyond the inhumanness of colonial patterning” .
For Fannon, there is only one way out that does not lead to becoming as the coloniser – it involves a turning of backs on inhuman histories and voices. For me, whakapapa helps me turn my back on colonialism, it gives me tools to reimagine life before and beyond colonialism, and this is essential to resisting oppression. Practices gifted by our ancestors can powerfully transform embodied responses to our experience of the world. When I make art, I whakapapa an ability to resist consumptive and confusing impulses. It’s like a horde of colonial hostilities have unwittingly been patterned into my body – art is my way to sort through all these patterns, and reshape them to empower my life. It is my intent to be free, especially of the sicknesses encouraged by colonialism. I want to find sustainable ways to manage myself within a network of healthy relationships.
Colonial behaviours popular in the world today can be understood through the writings of Powhatan-Renapé and Delaware-Lenápe scholar, poet and activist Jack D. Forbes, where ‘wétiko’, a Cree term, which is similar in meaning to a Dakota and Lakota term ‘washichu’, as well as an Ojibwe term ‘windigo’, explains colonising behaviours that are cannibalistic in intent . Wétiko, washichu and windigo refer to “fat eaters”, or those who in times of scarcity, eat the fat of an animal normally reserved for children and elders – the most vulnerable in our society. Forbes describes wétiko behaviours as being driven by individualism, to the extent that wétiko becomes a type of sickness, where one person consumes another’s life energy for their own benefit, or even economic profit.
When I think of the ways that oppression manifests in my life, when I see western doctors I am often described as illnesses – I’m either depression, schizophrenia, gender dysmorphia, AIDS, anxiety or any other number of stigmatising pathological diseases. Making artwork and thinking about what I have made, helps me gather my experiences past these descriptions. When I make art I create a sense of how I feel. Making something is an emotional experience and when I make, I can’t help but respond to things I’ve made, I think them through and wonder where in the Universe they manifested from. It’s the working out why I feel like I do, that helps me understand how I think about myself as part of the world. Through whakapapa, I create a new pathways, because I am constantly considering experiences through the windows of many generations – giving my experiences the flesh, bones and skin of my ancestors’ hopeful vision for me.
Starting from scratch – making things match
In my making, I think a lot about the impact of colonialism upon gender and sexual identity, and the harm enacted upon Indigenous people with fluid expressions for both. Opelousa/Atakapa-Ishak, West African, French Creole & Spanish scholar Andrew Jolivette explains how Native American “Two-Spirit bodies – those bodies that are deemed to lie outside the normal gender and sexual identity classifications by colonial powers … have been beaten, silenced, and traumatised in often insurmountable ways” . Often, popular gay culture has a marked association with alcoholism and for Indigenous people, racism too.
Indigenous people whose gendered and sexual identities lie outside mainstream norms are more likely to experience harm. This is emphasised in a 2006 report that describes the intersection of Indigeneity and youth as increasing experiences of sexual assualt within social contexts for men who have sex with men. The report states; “ … that Māori youth may exist as an exoticised and eroticised ‘other’ for some older Pākehā men”, and that the effects can negatively impact upon their sense of being Māori. It also points out that for the Māori research respondants, Māori culture offers a positive pathway to healing from these kinds of experiences. Being able to connect to the knowledge of ancestors heals our disassociated aspects – causing “ … a remembering … among Native and Indigenous peoples that calls for a reconciliation of all of our parts” .
This is evidently true in healing from my own experiences of sexual coercion and assault – where artmaking and creative writing are the means I am using to recover from painful experiences that have inhibited my ability to emote. Differentiating between painful life experiences and those that are traumatic, Leslie Young explains a Japanese understanding of trauma, where trauma stops time; “[b]ad events maintain and extend a person’s sense of personal coherence and continuity; whereas traumatic events, by contrast, create personal incoherence and discontinuity” . Writing about First Nations women who reclaim of aspects of identity that have been lost through histories of colonial trauma, Canadian theatre and performance scholar Shelley Scott similarly writes;
“… the scars of history are worn on the body and made visible by a kind of storytelling that is a mixture of public testimonial and personal healing. While it is primarily the performer herself who is healed, by witnessing their performances, that embodied healing can be shared by the audience and wider community” .
In the art I create, I recount my experiences through performance art, which are ceremonies that allow me to reclaim my own body. Art as ceremony enables me to remember another me, a vesion of myself empowered by the damage and my cultural memory of how to overcome it. For me, a public ceremony is necessary to expel and release the damage done – otherwise I remain trapped in my memories and private anguish, and those around me are unable to acknowledge their own. I don’t just tell my own story, even though I do, because what I do has a whakapapa. When I make art I rebirth life and energy through my network of relations. As I move and transform from the darkness of painful experiences through art making practices, I help my relations remember pathways through their own experiences of loss and erasure.
Dark matter – visualising rebirth
Whakapapa helps to establish patterns for making – as a weaver I weave a whakapapa that transforms a living plant into something that I can use. My ability to see the plants I use for weaving and their importance to my way of life, gives both myself and the plant power. When I begin to focus my intent toward making something, I transcend the immediacy of my body which begins to ‘feel’ more expansive and aware of its environment. When I make, creative actions becomes rhythmical and as I weave I fall asleep and awaken at the same time. Making encourages a liminal sensory threshold, it slows me down to just relax and be happy in being and making. This is a birth-like state where I can connect with my innner womb, or whare tangata memories. In Māori, ‘te whare tangata’ translates to the house of humanity and pertains to the uterus, and also the communal meeting house. Kirimatao Paipa of Ngāti Whakaue explains;
“Te Whare Tangata for Māori represents a place of safety and protection – a haven for new growth. Te Whare Tangata represents the continuous link that exists between land, mother and child as each is bound in a cycle of nourishment and care.”
Whare tangata is thought of in broad terms “beyond the physical role of producing life” – it is the human link to cosmologies where the potential for growth and emergence form in the darkness of Te Kore, the void of pre-existence . In this there is a duality of experience because “Te Kore may articulate experiences and feelings of absence, void, nothingness, loss and annihilation, and also notions of potentiality, a source or origin” . Te Kore is generative, it is the start of creation that birthed Te Pō, the night, and then Te Ao Mārama, the world of light. Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Porou lawyer and scholar Ani Mikaere writes:
“The progression from Te Kore, through Te Pō and on to Te Ao Mārama is an ongoing cycle of conception, development within the womb, and birth … The female presence at the beginning of the world is all encompassing. The female reproductive organs provide the framework within which the world comes into being.”
Although the transformative potential of art is understood within Western cultures, the often used scientific modes to practice and consider art overlook simple ways to enggage life, making and thinking. There’s nothing wrong with science, but thinking details without feeling their impact blurs realities. With science and empiricism comes a barrier to emotion, and stasis cannot support the life of a womb-like space. For art to have potential then we need to do away with restrictive measures. Indigenous communities have knowledge that can free art and its power from institutional confines … art needs to release its ability to heal! To break down the empirical thresholds of contemporary art, Steven Leuthold has developed a theory of Indigenous aesthetics. Indigenous aesthetics reformulates Western aesthetics, extending creative possibilities – “[e]ngaging indigenous systems of aesthetics expands appreciation and refines understanding of how arts can produce meaning for multiple audiences” . For some Indigenous peoples, artistic expression is perceived in a “parallel time” where past and future are present and individual identities are communal identities; “[p]arallel times bridge the living, the dead, and spiritual elements into a continuous flow that creates and maintains power. It is from ancestors and ultimately from the god(s) that the viewer responds to emotionally, spiritually, and physically” .
Whakapapa empowers beyond the abuses enacted upon my body, because it fills nothingness with potential and in this way extends possibilities for transformation. This internal and personal process can be applied externally, as a way to manage colonising visuality landscapes that constantly forecast the exclusion of Indigenous lives.
Susan Sontag, an American photographer and art theorist explains the overload of images in today’s world, as akin to Plato’s cave – where chained within, a trapped individual’s concept of the ‘truth’ is based on the projections of shadowy figures that dance and move in front of a fire – rather than see people move past the fire, the person in chains experiences life second-hand, never grasping the true world and the people who move with it . Sontag’s rewriting of Plato for contemporary contexts, brings to mind my understandings of Te Kore and nothingness. I can forever continue internalising colonial perceptions that distance me from empowerment, believing that finite circumstance as empty, nothing and devoid of hope. Alternatively, I can grasp the potentiality of Te Kore offered through ancestral knowledge and resist the second-hand reality I am offered through visual enculturation. Neither Sontag nor Plato’s theories of capture describe the agency people are able to affirm. However, through Te Kore and its connection to te whare tangata I am enabled to consider my deep enduring relationship with the world that sustains me and the hope it always offers.
Dr Tāwhanga Nopera is an artist and researcher of Ngāti Whakaue whakapapa. Tāwhanga’s practice investigates the impact of colonialism on Māori people and also pathways to healing from trauma.
It’s 3am ish…
Shit’s been weird lately, I don’t know what’s up with me.
I need a plan…
Things are great in some senses, like, I have been going to the gym and have put on 4 kilos of muscle. I look hot! On the other hand, I’m constantly eating shit food. There have been an epic number of tangi lately…I can’t remember a time when more relations have died. You can imagine, that’s a lot of steamed pudding to consume at the hākari. I have been trying to go to more tangi and more community events, but there’s always the wrong types of food and cos I’m always hungry I just eat it all up.
I’m not down with my sex life either. It sux to look great and feel like there’s noone to appreciate it…like, the guys I’m hooking up with lately are pretty average, like seriously average (sorry if I fucked u lately…you’re average but still made me cum, thanks). There’s a distinct lack of handsome men around, except that one guy I’m not allowed to write or talk about. I’m trying out grindr atm. It sux…I’m not good at negotiating sex with strangers except when it’s 100% anonymous. Korekore rawa e whai ure kē ahau ki ngā tauhou, engari, ka pai mā ngā tāngata, kotahi rau paihēneti tauhou anake! Āe, pai tērā. He rerekē? I either have to totally know someone or totally not know them at all to feel comfortable fucking them. Grindr even is too familiar weirdly.
I’ve always been a fan of anonymous sex, quickies in the park etc etc. It’s so easy to find sex, I’m a practical person…horny???…get sex…proceed with day. Engari, ka koroua haeretanga ana au, e hiahia ai te mea nui, he aroha tonu nō tāku hoa pūmau, nō tāku hoa takatāpui. Kei hea ia? As I get older I’m feeling like I want to share my life with some1. It’s about to get epic. I don’t wanna do epic single.
I’ve been learning my language, through a total immersion program. It’s one of the best in the country and I am getting good grades…as you’d expect from a scholar, but yeah, I need to put more effort in. I’m cracking ‘A’s, but really I should be getting ‘A+’s. I can’t believe I can speak, write and understand my own language.
But I feel like I need to put more effort in across the board actually. I’m feeling very first world problems, cos it’s not good to have the world at my feet, and yet feel unfulfilled.
I’m not following through on opportunities. I’ve had many many blessings this year, and many many great offers. I have emails that are six months overdue on reply. I’ve been a sad guy, ladyman, mea. Change is coming tho.
My psychology has been a little fucked up, so I haven’t been able to capitalise on opportunities, but yeah, the tide is turning and I’m starting to get the good feels on permanent.
The PhD really undid me, to the point where for the past few years I feel like I’ve been coming back from a manic episode. I got to know myself…some of me was a demon who I didn’t like. He’s gone now tho, so I can change for good finally. Maybe one day I’ll write about how much weed it took to smoke out that demon.
So each day I go through my routines, I get up and run, or get up and gym, I shower, shave my face and head, put on a sexy outfit, beat my face and make my eyes glam, accessorise discriminatingly, go to school from 9 – 3 in another city, go home, smoke drugs eat, study, work, fuck, sleep, repeat. The smoke drugs and fuck habits are in change up mode, they’re just fading hangovers from the shadow that was in me.
I’ve had to keep it simple as my strategy for recovery, because deep down I when I got to flight or fight mode, I selected flight path. That was a few years back now, like 2016…the year of trying to make things end permanently. Recovery has been slow, but good things have been happening…like I’ve quit ciggies, I’m drinking waaay less alcohol, I finished a PhD and now have a whole universe of potential before me. Like, I’ve published a couple of times already this year, a major art historian from the US has written about my art in her new book and I have shows coming up!!! I’m working on two surveys and am about to complete another article for publication. That’s my fight mode, it always clicks in to save me from myselfishmess. For two years I have been on autopilot, coming back from self-descruct.
And there’s the rub, it’s fucking scary. I’m scared.
I’m scared because I’ve nearly sorted my life out…nearly, I’m so nearly nearly nearly nearly there. Things are nearly perfectly aligned for me to step off and get that happily ever after life…I can see it, if I reach out to touch it I can have it.
But I’m too scared.
When I wake up in the morning, I won’t be scared anymore.
I have a plan.
When I wake up in the morning I’m hundy…for life.
xxx Dr Tāwhanga Mary Legs Nopera.
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.
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?