(2000). Eastern Institute of Technology Essay.


At this very moment, a “Maori renaissance” as termed by Strongman, is what we are lucky enough to be experiencing, though it is perhaps merely a belated acknowledgment on the part of academic New Zealand that they’ have (although brief in accounts) anticipated the logical emergence of a strong Maori presence artistically that precursors an also anticipated increase in Maori population”. The rhetoric of such a description if you choose to buy into it, suggests the transience of Maori art that it is immature in its development and awaits an intellectual base and framework so it can be understood on the same terms as western art, no matter where you stand there are elements of truth and arrogance in this sort of Account. Currently the lack of a Maori art history requires an exploration of history, sociology, economy, politics, psychology and so on, to diffuse a vast pool of knowledge, and while this essay focuses on the context of my work, the context itself is largely undefined. This essay will account my research, which sought to image its own context; with specific focus given to Current account, from the ‘Eye Spy’ exhibition, that analyses the indigenous experience of colonialism, and national structure. The work developed aside my research as a critique of the forms of colonialism, and their impact. Its example attempts to expunge colonial visions that formed New Zealand as a nation, and developed perceptions of the indigenous consciousness as being of indeterminable value in relation to national development. Such perceptions explored in the essay, contributed to the freeze of Maori development as both were absorbed into the mainstream. The account itself was based in hopeful research that sought to reveal positive and constructive methods to respond to colonialism. So the work would not just be a reiteration of a defeatist or an outraged stance that sought to allocate blame or guilt: Rather it hoped to engender a sense in the viewer and myself that by careful analysis of the problem, some solution would develop.

On a recent visit to Auckland, I took in the offerings of Maori artefacts in the frontispiece of the museum. Walking amidst the dim light restricted corridors of Oceanic art’s display cases, I entered the permanent Maoni treasures’ exhibition lending my weight to an arm support that eased my transition between spaces and allowed me to balance awkwardly on a gradient aside a successive series of carved pou tokomanawa. Carvings that seemed wholly divorced from any functional context I had ever seen thern in before. The black matte steel supports and similarly painted shelves upon which rested the carvings, seemed in essence to allude to the linear vertical stripes of Hotere or outlines of textural cloak weaves. There was in evidence some degree of effort on the part of the museum to present the traditional with neo traditional as a progressing continuum of thought, however the contextual allusion appeared to direct itself better toward the dehumanised sparse functionality and temporary housing qualities of a social welfare home or prison interior.

I was taken back recalling Taharora, one of my own Marae, whose interior conflicted with the interior of the Museum Exhibition. The main house is very organic and texturally grown, Bob Jahnke used low-tech materials such as garden hose and ice cream container lids alongside neo-traditional slot and weave tukutuku panels in a very human hybrid of traditional Maori tikanga and western tradition. The modernist précepts that fuelled the arte povera movement, that sought to be inventive while emphasising a human relationship with their surroundings, underlie in Jahnke’s intent and add a very human presence to traditional systems that were always humanistic, but fell into a static methodological state of self-replication. Jahnke’s organic wake up call for Maori artists who continue along traditional lines without reinventing or developing methodologies to analyse contemporary reality, was still resonating in my head, but quickly died down when I returned to look on the strangely isolated carvings that the museum had shelved. Although I’d previously attended museum presentations of such artefacts in Hawke’s Bay, the old National Museum as well Te Papa and was familiar with the transposable templates they use, the scale was much larger. I perceived that in their state, they looked far less a part of the spiritual transference of mauri and much more like the severed phalli that marked the repressed oppressive response of colonists to the sexual content that they saw present in the carving’s forms.

I was standing there, aware of their detachment from their previous lives, realising that they beared no semblance to functional participles of traditional Maori ideology, that supposedly objective museum directives were at work, when I recognised an example of Ngati Porou carving, confirmed by the supplicant title to be from my own Iwi. This is where I noted that anyone intending to look at the carvings would have to stand in the same lop sided stance that I was in the sloping transitional area not being very viewer friendly), in order to view what in my understanding is one of my own symbols of Maori identity. It almost seems surreal now but as I thought this a couple of generic American tourists laden with gift shop plastic bags and wearing baseball caps trundled down the slope. They didn’t look at the carving that I had by now identified with, which pissed me off somewhat and I remember raising a discerning eyebrow at them as they waddled in a centripetal direction toward the wharenui. At this point I realised that in that instant I had accepted how the carvings are displayed, associated my own history with the example provided and wanted some degree of reciprocated validation of it’s value from the representatives from America, Thus, I had fallen into the trap the museum has for the naive viewer, the false impression that it offers more than just a contrived facile awareness of humanity and cognitive experience, while gauging a universal value of the work. Reading truth into this account of history, reveals a nation of people eclipsed by colonialism while left in fragmented debris, for archaeologists to aggrandise the auspices of museums, this all supplements the popular but false notion of western culture, that Maori and Indigenous history can adequately be included within the western model of objectivity the museum appears to represent with the same regard it has for its own history. The power structure of the museum is but one example out of a plethora; that rely upon the perception of the defeat of indigenous peoples as a necessary element to facilitate a dominant culture’s validation of their own position. The concepts that form my work were developing a thread, this is where I looked specifically for those people who were constructing measures to respond to the forms of colonial systems that oppress indigenous reality and perpetuate misrepresentation by dominant culture, especially those systems designed to perpetuate racial difference or imprint upon indigenous culture a sense of inferiority or powerlessness while also contradictorily professing cultural equality

Seeking an unbiased account of post-colonial reality is the archetype connecting indigenous artists. Experiences of colonial systems are possessions akin to indigenous peoples and mark out a unified terrain from whence visual texts are derived. This form of unified artistic response to colonialism bears with it the weight of generations of people, pushed to the peripheries of national representation in the nanie of colonisation. Indigenous art concurrently responds to colonialism as the perpetrator of a massive fraud; that is not only evident in the colonisation of land or the assimilation of peoples, but in the colonisation of thought. Current conjecture regarding the psyche of first peoples’ suggests that .post-colonial traumatic stress syndrome’ is the appropriate term for the locked state of suspended consciousness that stagnates the growth of indigenous peoples worldwide, inhibiting the same peoples from transcending the sphere of colonial influence, Greek-Australian feminist artist Elisabeth Gertsakis presents her perspective of colonialism as being an ingrained symptom of riationhood that predicates its own dependence on patriarchal eurocentred hierarchies:

“The current values of resurgent nationalism, be they bloody and virulent, or sequestered by their constrained dormancy, smug in distance, perpetuate nation on the basis of metaphors often given them by the imperial and colonial west in the pursuit of its own fantasies, ‘*

‘Nation’ is a replacement, an excuse for the genocide that is orchestrated by colonialism, because nation operates after colonial forms have régressed into ‘dormant systems, shifting critical focus from the envelopment of colonialism toward concepts of nationalism, that promote colonialisin in altered states, developing into formalized functional models of western patriarchal vahes, such as governmental modes, educational institutions, social perceptions and so on. A topographic view of Hastings’, reveals a grid road structure, reveals its suburbs, parks and schools, residențial, industrial and commercial zones, but paradoxically is visually removed from the human element to which it is indelibly connected. As an object, it operates allowing the individual to figure out where they are, or where the place they want to go is. An individual on any Hastings street is aware that they are in a physical space, aware of the physical presence of others in transit and also aware that the sidewalk, shops and roads extend far beyond their immediate scope. We learn this from a very young age by osmosis, forming ideas for which the map offers a frame for a developing perception of the environment. The physical world theri reveals itself as one already defined and dernárcated, so that by learning how its system functions any such transitional movement can be assessed, recognised and then undertaken. Once this takes place, transition from start point to end point, (which is representational of the residual presence of the individual) can be recorded, not just with the intent of obtaining the history of the individual, but one that can be grouped or compared with similar transitions by others. The landscape begins to develop a significant relevance: suburbs can be matched to people, who for reasons of inhabitancy or transition exist within a demarcated area. In this fashion suburbs have nationally developed, as underlying signifiers of socio-economic identities that intertwine with perceptions of groups who exist within the suburbs area. Suburbs then, are labels that enable broad generalisations, regarding the race, wealth, education, history and so on, of their occupants, allowing for people of a certain area to be seen to be of lesser value than those of another. Maps allow for the recognition not just of geographic position but for the acknowledgement of an individual’s value within a ‘dormant’ though recognisable frame of reference. I used the map as a signifier of a type of system that allows one to judge another from the safety of a generalised perception (yet this is a part of its subtext, the text may be seen to embrace and validate the system it is attempting to illuminate). Juxtapose or overwrite this concept with the concept of Ta Moko as was done in Current Account and an extremely powerful example of indigenous reality is illuminated and explained, that the landscape or cityscape can be a constant reminder of the negative or positive images associated with its geography. Identifying the change of the new Moko from a signifier of being Maori, possessing pride in one’s history or lineage to a signifier of low class. Nation develops these forms that can confound indigenous peoples who are conjoined psychologically by such systems, but at the same time face denigration because of them. Indigenous art gives these colonial processes that evolve to contribute to national assimilation form, so that they can be held accountable, dispelled or very easily accepted, most importantly though is that they are recognised.

First peoples reach this point after taking on board the accounts of a dominant culture’s history of them, and this has not been the method of dominant culture. Who record history on the basis of accounts that, in order to fit with popular sentiments evolve truth, whereas indigenous peoples engage in processes of devolution, in order to critique biased accounts of history, that are learnt by osmosis and the constant of negatively reinforced images. However universal or absolute truth with regard to combining indigenous and colonial history into a generic is an unachievable ideal it asks that both sides impart all, transcending their own cognitive experiences including the negatives of, denial, self-hatred, resentment and so on in an intercultural showing of poker hands. Ward Churchill the Native North-American academic elaborates:

“You need a neutral, third party arbitrator, a plebiscite, or whatever, something that’s completely out of the mix to determine who’s doing what to whom, and what it is that’s necessary to correct it. Perpetrators can seldom correct the course of action by which they are perpetrating crimes. You do not expect the burglar to stop in the middle of the burglary, assess their actions, decide they’re wrong and vacate the premises. That’s what you have the police for, that’s what you have the courts for. But when the police and the courts are emblematic representatives of colonial genocide, then you need something outside of that to serve as an arbitrator, to decide what it is that’s right and what it is that’s wrong and what it is that’s to be done to set things right, to set the wrongs out of the picture. This with regard to the enemy’s) own conduct, it simply will not and cannot and should not be expected to do that itself”. “

In order to remain objective an independent third party would need to exist outside the threads of colonial influence and the sheer scale of colonial authority makes this third party a non-entity. To be a truly objective non-participant, would require being born and raised on another planet. The equation once simplified leaves two experiences, the colonial vs. the indigenous, both existing in a contradictory counter-synch duality, similar in both form and function to binary code, the mathematical language that requires two opposites in order to operate. Colonialism requires these two such parts or else it ceases to be, thus upon analysis of the aforementioned binary parts, solutions to address the process of decolonisation can be obtained. The most visible of these parts is the perpetrator of colonial systems, who in the eyes of indigenous cultures instigates the forms of colonial genocide defined in the 1948 Genocide convention”, and subsequently takes on the auspices of a white predator consuming indigenous culture. However, this is becoming less of a reality. “White people’ (a term that is less than desirable to use, but fits with the indigenous perception of those who are in power) generally do not appear to be attempting to instigate new forms of genocide against indigenous peoples, rather they are locked into the same colonial systems that oppress indigenous peoples. Systems that manifest in generic social perceptions of success and values, and dually in the methods of their promotion: The perpetrator who once perpetuated colonial systems but now is included in their design, is allotted a stance that looks into the trenches rather than looking out, and responds to colonialism with art that is generally less charged than those of indigenous peoples. Artists such as Theo Schoon and Gordon Walters are examples of the methodology primitivism produced and evidence of one such colonisation of the indigenous intellect, and very contrived aesthetic renderings of indigenous culture, that parallel the colonial and patriarchal imagination. Their art contributes to the resource of colonial exchange that already heavily represents the coloniser. Rather than aiding the mudslide, this essay will comment on representations of the binary nature of colonialism that manifest in Maori art.

The approach of Maori artists to New Zealand’s colonial history generally involves drawing connections between past and present, exploring issues of cause and effect, offering perspectives to events that have been largely ignored. Ignored due to a lack of education, or interest on the part of a dominant culture to dredge up a past that can paint it in an unfavourable light, and could possibly “… Return to be a gnawing pain of remorse in their hearts forever” Te Whiti’s prediction of a form of karmic ‘remorse and pain in the hearts of Pakeha’, or rather New Zealanders in general has never been realised, although allocating blame or instilling guilt in the mind of the perpetrator is not necessary for the process of decolonisation to take place. Today Maori contend with the reverse, residual guilt foisted upon us from many sectors of the colony, imparted by dominant culture in denial of the impact of colonisation on the colonised. Putting right such perceptions of history has been the grand narrative for Maori artists, however, this form of articulated correction asks a lot of the artist, influencing those oblivious to, or unwilling to accept indigenous realities as a result of colonialism, requires the artist to be extremely inventive and divisive, this form of commentary in general either caters to the national palate or attempts to deconstruct the colonial world in a destructive rather that creative manner. Normally the tact is to educate the nation from within this however can often extend itself to embrace the values of colonialism to which indigenous responses profess an opposition.

“Sometimes denigrations of indigenous peoples have transparently legitimated imperial domination”.

The narrative is often diffused, because of the difficulty of correcting false perceptions of colonial influence by presenting a critique of colonialism within the colonial context of the museum. This is problematic of indigenous response to colonialism, any stance that centres New Zealand’s colonial western art tradition, marginalizes the Maori art tradition, and shows a measured acceptance of a degree of lost ground as far as indigenous autonomy goes on the part of the Artist, in order to present their artwork. Consequently, the Artist becomes involved in a process that validates colonialism. It is a cultural trade off that results in perpetuating colonialism and art work that does little productive once absorbed into the imperial system of art museums and galleries.

Mike Smith the activist responsible for putting a chainsaw to the tree atop one tree hill responded to a physical form of colonial presence. His course of action is an example of one method of colonial reproach, and while it is not art in any traditional sense, it symbolically sought to purge from the Auckland cityscape a very powerful sign that signifies colonial presence and predominance over the land and consequently Maori (land having intrinsic value for Maori and the tree not being native). His premeditated attack on a symbol of national identity also attempted to remove a notion that presupposes the harmony of indigenous and dominant cultures. In addition, it shows that the indigenous consciousness does function and is not restricted as far as being able to recognise colonial forms and although extreme in this instance, is able to devise methods to counter their influence.

“The challenge of our nation is to harness this energy into effective, focused organization and action. At the same time we must resist attempts of the economic and political elite, both Maori and Pakeha, who seek to subvert this agenda to maintain the status quo for their own short-term individual financial gain “

While Smith’s act connects environmental signifiers and colonial systems, he is also addressing the problems facing those who engage in the process of de-colonisation, His own search for a process in which to decolonise Maori as a whole body, by removing or replacing colonial symbols leaves no positive place to go for Maori, in this instance it will succeed temporarily; the old tree has been removed a native tree will replace it. Here the metaphorical whakatauki, “Hinga atu he tetekura, ara mai he tetekura, parallels both the replacement of the tree and Smith’s selfless approach. However the approach is much more successful in isolating Maori, there will always be a negative air surrounding it’s conception, and the tree will probably be attacked in a similar fashion by anti-Maori activists. Where this system of symbolically purging the landscape falls down is in it’s reinforcement of negative perceptions of Maori, that inspire neither the external awareness of dominant culture or cultural self-respect in Maori that is necessary to allow the decolonisation of an individual.

My own work responds to forms of validated censure that are directed at Maori, responding to colonialism on the basis of illuminating this dehumanisation process: Dehumanisation is the factor necessary to allow the justification of prejudice in the mind of its instigator. The dehumanisation of indigenous peoples is a trait of colonisation and there are enumerable examples of its application from the contact period until today. The most visible form is the media representation of Maori. Williams defines the term Maori as, “Man, human being; man of the Polynesian race, not a foreigner, the distinction not being confined to colour”. Terminology constantly, ignorantly misused by the media in a singular tense when it possesses both singular and plural usage, dependent on preceding signifiers. This rough surgical removal and basic literal transplantation into English, removes any singular address and in turn signifies Maori as a race, making the perception of Maori as one body a national concept. Although not a negative concept until used to identify criminals or undesirables within the Maori race (which is a constant), because it then labels the whole race as such. This is where the dehumanisation of Maori begins to manifest in the national psyche; crime and underachievement become culturally emblematic of Maori. The term has become a label that is internalised negatively by Maori, as well as carrying with it implications of racial separation that contribute to National perceptions of racial difference, not just in the minds of our predominantly white dominant culture, but in the minds of Maori in gerieral. Ona tangent, an adjunct but still relevant is that the ‘Maori Card’ used as a cheap media tool to aggravate public interest in a product, has become so pronouncedly obvious in its methodology and intent that it’s system can be predicted, New Zealand’s recent poor performance at the Sydney Olympics, will probably result in an anti-Maori media backlash later as the nation realises it’s own globally peripheral position and seeks to re-centre itself. This add-on is an example of the binary as it works in the indigenous psyche, that there may be no obvious form of oppression in any text, but experience shows indigenous peoples that in it’s sub-texts exist the same singular values of colonialism that have Maori isolated as a sub or counter-culture. Maori expect to be the object of derision and to be oppressed, whether or not any said text oppresses, is again the important question that leaves Maori in a state of constant analysis and is one of the concurrent symptoms that combine in the newly coined postcolonial traumatic stress syndrome’. Another symptom is internalisation, when Maorí take on board negative images that the oppressor has of them two outcomes result, either in self hatred or the transference of that self-hatred onto others. The externalisation of internalised anger has very visible consequences.

“The externalization of the self-hatred… is seen with the number of Maori who are convicted of crimes of violence and the very high number of Maori women and children who are the victims of violence”

Whereas the externalisation of these internalised negative images through art, can disarm the impetus of negative images, giving focus to what problems affect Maori. This is the base level of cultural re-establishment that begins with the decolonisation of oneself, Reclaiming an accurate historical account is an important adjunct that is of secondary importance to the process of reclaiming the possession of a Maori identity after colonialism: I decided to adopt this sort of analytical approach with my own work. Chapping down metaphoric trees and allocating blame based on historic reference seems to dig a deeper hole for Maori, when what is needed are positive references, that show the emergence of Maori from a void state of psychological darkness.

The national paua hallucination is my favourite allusion to postcolonial traumatic stress syndrome’; it is derived from the playwright Briar Grace-Smith’s play Purapurawhetu. This is where I was heading one Friday night, searching the unfamiliar streets of Hastings for the Playhouse theatre. To see the second to last performance of the play before it was exported to Greece. Kuia in wheelchairs, wrapped up in warm fleece blankets were grouped together facing the entrance way, as the doors were opened their warm smiles and outreaching arms for their inoko were the karanga that welcomed my parents and I in, although we didn’t know them, or they us, the positive air gave us their positive anticipation of the show. The show began and I became increasingly aware that Grace-Smith was using the play as a vehicle to communicate a larger issue to the audience, specifically the state of suspended consciousness and its link with historic events in isolating the elected. correlation can be drawn between the trauma impacted on the main character, mis subsequent dislocation from mainstream reality into a perpetual state of stand historical coma termed by Grace-Smith as his ‘paua hallucination and the effect of trauma felt on a much larger scale by Maori. The paua hallucination is much like a version of Shakespeare’s storm metaphor used in King Lear, where lucid accounts of the characters reality. juxtaposed with the meandering waffling of a lunatic are

enveloped within a cloud of confusion and self-analysis. Because I had purchased a * ticket, sat in the audience and been able to recognise and understand what was affecting the main character from a relative distance, the idea that transcending the void was possible was reinforced in my mind; reinforced also was a sense that the problem could be only part reality and part illusion, this was realized when we in the audience stood and left.

While the various parts of the account reflect the process of devolution I undertook, the structure*I sought to make sense of the myriad of imagery that I was confronted with. I chose for its metaphoric qualities that explain the concept of “suspended consciousness and again owes Grace-Smith’s play. The affirmation of my ideas as I was looking for in discussing issues of the intergenerational inheritance of like mind sets, I found in her use of the purapurawhetu tukutuku panel. GraceSmith defines the pattern:

“Its pattern of stars represents the souls of ancestors who have passed on and watch down on us from the night sky”

The pattern despite the transitional leaps of the play from past to present and back and forth remains constant and stationary. This is the premise that the play is based upon, that I chose to use in a similar manner. Grace-Smith identifies this traditional Maori template as what enables the intergenerational inheritance of history and the trauma associated with it. To paraphrase, a functionality as Jacq Carters’ ‘post-modern Maori’ poetry surmises “For I am because they were and because I am they are”, a concept of duality that gives birth to new generations with the intergenerational debt and credit of the previous.

Current account was devised to facilitate a way of similarly getting up and leaving colonialism. Illuminating the many forms I was beginning to see everywhere intended to offer a direction not necessarily an immediate solution, but a course for actions that could follow, to develop an understanding of what the state of being free from oppressive colonial systems would be like, by embracing the area where the communication between the two worlds was most powerful and painful, in the hope that some understanding could crossover. I based the work around the idea that colonialism functions as a binary system. That an image whether derived from a Maori or colonial history can be seen simply from two perspectives, that these two perspectives are closely related by their difference and together form an image of our nation, by one suggesting the other and alluding to the distance between. This is the work surmised in two sentences; application of this basic principle conversely is a difficult involved process. At its core it was highly personal, exploring my own development and my environment, it required me to face how I’ve grown up, how I view the world and how it views me; this type of response to colonialism requires an awareness of two perspectives and as I can’t be divorced from being Maori, I can only imagine how the oppressor or one who is not oppressed perceives the world. I had to construct an understanding of their image by returning to them the images of Maori that they present. As my research developed my capacity to understand the oppressor, I realized I couldn’t accept that other cultures image could definitively represent Maori and although I do believe I am somewhat in between two worlds in a growing tradition of urban hybrids making my work representative of an urban perspective that is somewhat removed from a traditionally recognized Marae base, I am aware of the images out there, popular ones that engender such painful feelings of depression and hopelessness, ones that are easy to accept but at odds with any Maori world I am aware of. From a very dark place I exploited the imagination of the oppressor, in order to fully understand this void, I immersed myself with the negative `images that the oppressor has for Maori’, so that by cognitive exercises I could visit this void while attempting to figure a rational way out of it, thusly inducing the storm while trying to remain objectively critical in order to find a way to transcend its influence.