Ārai: breaking beyond – Catalogue essay

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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.

New moonscape

Tāwhanga PhD final performance

Image credit – Ngāwai Smith (Marketing and Communications Advisor for the Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Waikato)

Ok, i’m sitting at the kitchen table looking out over the lake. It’s sunny but also windy and I’m sending out the good vibes for a summer that seems waaay long overdue. This year’s winter was one of discontent, the content dis-associative in that I was able to make a break from the past that kept me in stasis.

The moon is new and growing fuller as the moments pass, calming these new waters as they escape from beyond their dammed flow. Time to grow, progress and prosper.

I had my second job interview for my dream job. I am praying each day that I get it because instead of planning for the future I can start living the future into existence.

I’m a doctor now lol.

I had my final performance and oral examination last week and the experiences were powerfully transformative. It was good to make performance art in the manner I most love – occupying a cold space and making it into one where I feel safe to live at my best and sometimes too my worst. Performance art, especially guerrilla performance art is amazing in its ability to awaken people to the ideas spaces hide. The ideas hidden in spaces are made manifest through unspoken rules about how to behave –  these become the foundation for our norms. In the art I enacted last week, I simply mapped out a common space that people have to move through on campus at the University of Waikato. I used 3 large adhesive images, shells, condoms and random things from my room like earrings, toothpaste, superglue and necklaces to create patterns on cobblestones. Once I had marked out my space, I then spent time cutting the images up to create an assemblage whilst singing and dancing. Really, I was just performing my ‘happy place’ – the mindset I occupy when I’m in the zone making art. The performance lasted about four hours.

The feedback was really great and the following day at my oral exam, those present remarked that it spoke directly to the themes of my research. It feels weird to have a PhD. I am still processing it. I think about all the amazing places, the self-discoveries, the lessons learned and the figuring out of political processes that have underpinned (and undermined) my PhD journey. I think about the life of a fucked-up, trashed tranny who spent all those nights in dark dark spaces, waiting for death. I think about the tears that seldom fall from my eyes because I have been too robotic to emote. I think about a lot of pain. It feels weird to have a PhD and to feel alive, vital and empowered at the intersection of academia and art. For me, making sense of those two things has helped me make sense of all the other intersections my body occupies – Māoritanga, New Zealander, same-sex attracted, transgender, living with HIV, drug addict, alcoholic, rape survivor, suicidal tendencies, depressive and impoverished.

It’s pretty powerful that a person with all those markers can write a PhD thesis to grow new space at the unique intersection of many oppressions. Maybe that’s my journey in this life, to give life where before there only felt like death.

It’s hard to look back and feel equally happy and sad, but great art is about contradictory tension.

I’m a mother-fucken doctor betches!!!

Horizon

Awaken afresh a fresh start, art is the awa through which my energy engages it’s flow. I flew a million miles to get here, neither a him nor her, a hermit heretic hell-bent on healing harm…arm myself with aroha.

The New Zealand elections were last night. It looks as though we will have the same government agenda continue and yet amplify it’s dangerous and colonizing intent. The decision-maker is a well known bigot and blamer of Māori, even though he is Māori.

It’s time for Māori to truly commit to the vitality our ancestors have gifted us over aeons and refuse this process to progress. We will see a regression in policies and a return to tactics that seek to wipe us out. We must remember the 70s and 80s when we protested this country the fuck out it’s reverie.

Battle strategy tactics on the streets, in boardrooms, in classrooms, in conferences, in courtrooms and in council chambers.

Challenge the process, deny it and utilise the wairua of te ao marama to bring back the light to our hearts in this world of deadened emotions!

I feel fuller than ever before in my life…so this is what it is like to feel good?

I have been flying all over the country lately, every week somewhere different spreading my art research.

I received my thesis examiner’s reports last Monday. They are both epic. I have my oral exam and final exhibition-performance in a few weeks. I am going to rock my art like never before. I have joined a gym and been training my body like the  beautiful androgynous muther-fucker I am, as often as I am able. Three weeks already and I look sleek and dangerous.

Swim fly run rings around the burning sun. Time to get up for kapa haka practice.

Get up

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Wake up you

Get golden hued

Find the fitness

Meet the witness

Magic in the middle

You do the math

Cement the path

Time to solve the riddle

Today I’m doing things simply. This week has been dramatic but I’m firmly grounded regardless.

In 5 days I’m handing my PhD thesis in. Just a few little edits left and off to the printers on Monday. I gotta get some paid work done too, so that I can afford to pay for the printing lol.

The head of Native Studies in Arizona wants me to go there and help them set up a creative practice PhD program. That’s a job for this week, beginning that discussion and looking for funding. I’d like to go for a year.

I submitted a few abstracts this week. One was on barriers to healthcare access for transgender Māori, the other was on kaupapa Māori creative strategies to empower the HIV sector.

I have been cray emailing cuators and scholars all over the world during the past week as well. I think there needs to be a Takatāpui/Two Spririt gathering in 2019, with a focus on creative practice and relational strategies toward healing our land, communities and futures.

I don’t care that I’m a black, hairy, HIV positive fucking tranny who’ll never get the chop cos I love my dick.

I’m guna change the world.

Island time

You are the volcano, full of lava and firey eruptions – untouchable and yet I can’t help but want to put my fingers in you to see how you feel…will I get burned so badly the pain will last forever?

I am the ocean, turbulent with mixed currents – chill and inviting…you want to dive into me but are afraid you will drown, that I will suffocate you in my airless surge.

If only we could hold each other without our senses, it’s senseless to get sentimental – mentally taxing as the moon above us waxes and wanes our moments lived caressing each other’s songs in harmony.

There is an island where we meet.

At first it was just a clump of rocks, clinging for breath as we both poured forth…each day it has grown, grounding itself, giving life and space to love.

We hover there, no fear – it dissapates, dissolving into glitter that becomes the kind of magic that inspires…our island is art. We make, creating pictures and movements, cementing a future of goodness for all our relations.

Hold your head high above the clouds my baby, you are regal beyond belief…I’ll lie low in my books and words, charting darkened terrains for the hidden treasures we can share when we meet in thoughts producing actions, action to thought.

Wow…genderfluid loving at its best.