Te ao hou

KURA: Embodied Mana Wahine – Donna Campbell at RAMP Gallery, Hamilton 20 Feb – 1 March


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

Ārai: breaking beyond – Catalogue essay


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.