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"Put Your Weirdness To Work"

04 Apr 2024

Tips on forgiveness, resilience and courage - Hiria Anderson-Mita processes the most valuable life lessons she'd give to her younger self.

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A Big idea contributor

Hiria Anderson-Mita (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Apakura, Rereahu) is in the midst of a big year in her artistic career.

Her exhibition Hiria Anderson-Mita: where we are/what we are doing - inspired by her life growing up in Ōtorohanga, where she still lives - is on show at the NZ Portrait Gallery until 9 June, along with another exhibition Te Hokinga Mai running concurrently at Page Gallery until 20 April.

It comes off the back of her recent exhibition Kuhu Mai at Te Uru Waitakāre Contemporary Gallery.

Anderson-Mita paints true to her own view - of everyday lives of her community, politics and environments that show the nuances of Māori culture in current times.

She's contemplated what she'd tell her 22-year-old self to help them along their creative path, based on advice garnered through her experiences.

You are brave and resilient

If you’re having a rough time and feeling low, getting out of the house to look at art can help you feel better.  

Even being creative to express how you feel might help to clear your head, look at the situation objectively or just give you a break and have some fun.

I met an awesome group of ladies at the NZ Portrait Gallery in Pōneke recently. They created a dementia walking group, meeting regularly and visiting local art galleries and museums. During their walk around, they stop to talk about what they've seen.

Around 8 years ago, I caught a bus to Auckland to attend a preop appointment to remove cancer via a hysterectomy. I visited Auckland Art Gallery two hours before the appointment to take in all the art.  

It was an uplifting experience - it armoured me up for that appointment.

When I got home I painted a self-portrait of the bus ride. The girl in the portrait and the Dementia Walking Group used art to overcome life’s challenges.  We are all so brave, so resilient!

Forgive your young "dumbass" self

It's not hard to be a "dumbass" in your young life.  

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A young Hiria Anderson-Mita with her (then) baby sister Summer. Photo: Supplied.

We all do unsatisfactory shit that adults don't approve of.  You made decisions based on how equipped you were at the time, but also our young brains are going through rapid neurological change in order to develop, play catchup with our bodies and mature our thinking. 

There is nothing you can do to change the past so forgive yourself and keep moving forward with lessons learnt.

Give yourself permission to dream

I’m talking about the Visions, Goals and Aspirations you might have for your future. Dreams are maps to your VGAs.  

In 2015, I visited Te Uru Contemporary Art Gallery in Waitākere as a MFA student.  I remember thinking “Man, what would it be like to exhibit in this amazing space?"

Well, blow me down - I've just closed an amazing survey show with an Artist Talk at Te Uru in 2024.   

This isn't a one-off.  I was  16 when I realised I wanted to be an artist.  From that point on, every intention, focus and dedication I put towards my art over the years helped me build a career.  

As you tick the list of achievements; don't forget to acknowledge the people who helped you along the way because you don't get there on your own - ever.

The copy myth

There is an age-old adolescent myth that copying is cheating. Last time I checked, there was no Art Cheating Police scoping out my studio waiting to arrest my cheating ass. 

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Hiria Anderson-Mita, Sleeping (2017). Image: Supplied.

There's only hundreds of years’ worth of evidence that painters used lens technology to help establish life-like fleshy realness in their subjects.  The camera obscure like a OHP would beam an image onto the waiting canvas as early as the 1600s.

I’m often asked if I've used a photo.  When I tell them yes, I absolutely use them as part of my practice, some people slump a little, pout and look disappointed - like I've just told them Santa's not real. Some say "OMG, I thought that was a photo!" Most people want to know my process and I'm open to that. I use a range of methods, processes and tools that have pros and cons.  I'm not an expert but I know my craft. 

Bottom line is keep doing you boo, don't feel guilty for using tech or references or whatever.  The skill and mastery lie in the way you render paint. Learn your craft from all aspects and in that, you will grow confidence so that primary school-level comments like "you're cheating" won't bring you down.

Harden up Bey!

As a young "buckwheat" art student, I’ve learnt that if you want to be an artist, you've got to develop thick skin to survive all the criticism that will come your way.

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Hiria Anderson-Mita, Moving forward (2022). Image: Courtesy of the artist and Tim Melville Gallery.

For me, I've survived 30 years so far... or 150,000 in mosquito years. Criticism can hurt your feelings and make you think what you have to share isn't worth it.  

Artists who have learnt how to handle criticism often last the distance.

It is important to know how to receive criticism, how to give criticism, how to learn from criticism and how to respond to criticism. It’s one of the most valuable skills to have if you intend to be a practising artist.

Criticism statements
That's shit.                 Not helpful
Far that's cool.          Not much more helpful
That grey ruined it.   Need more info
The grey looks dark and flat. You could use these colours to improve it, practice on another canvas.       Thank you for your constructive criticism, that’s helpful.

Some scholars know more than others about the gentle art of receiving criticism.
Whitcliffe School of Art and Design integrates Constructive Criticism or "Crits" into their programmes.  It's hands-on learning and comprehensive. There are also lots of online resources and videos to watch if you're not at Art School.

While you are studying, you are in this safety cocoon where everything you do is experimental.  When you are out exhibiting in public, your work is up for public scrutiny.  That domain can be brutal.  Learn how to protect your soft, kind heart by turning it to cold hard iron.

Dyslexics, dummies 'n weirdos

I knew pretty much all my life that I had learning difficulties at school, being slower than everyone else to complete work. 

A teenage Hiria Anderson-Mita. Photo: Supplied.

I had problems with memory, comprehension, reading, writing, maths and Te Reo. In college, I was put into 3NO known as The Dumb Class.  

Dyslexia impacted my learning but it didn't affect my ability to visualise and conceptualise.  In fact, I’ve found Dyslexics have superpowers of the creative kind and if you discover your own superpower during your lifetime - I want you to milk it for all its worth.

It doesn't end there. We all have crazy, unique, weirdo traits that we are blessed with. Recognise it, accept it and put your weirdness to work because there's no one else like you. Show up in the world and celebrate that shit. 

One last thing. Some weird as Māori girl in 3NO graduated with a Masters in Fine Arts and First Class Honours in her early 40s. Not so dumb after all.  So geddit! GO HARD!

Hiria Anderson-Mita: where we are/what we are doing will run until 9 June at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery Te Pūkenga Whakaata, Shed 11, Wellington Waterfront.