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Shifts of Direction

03 Dec 2020
Creativity doesn't just exist on a page or on a wall - this week's arts news Lowdown looks at some of the biggest topics and most impressive accolades.

An inclusive direction

What constitutes art and what power structures are holding styles and ideologies up are two of the most hotly contested topics within the art realm. This week has shown a pleasing shift in a more inclusive direction.

With one in five people overall in New Zealand - and one in three people under 30 - being tattooed, we are one of the most inked places in the world. 

Tattooing takes years of finesse and learning about composition, shading and linework. Speak to anyone about their ink and it can either tell a story, champion an idea or tell nothing. They can be deliberately beautiful or ugly or average. Much like artists and art.

For Māori, tā moko is a visual connection to their whakapapa, to their past, present and future that has been committed to their skin. In 1907, the then-government’s Tohunga Act outlawed the spiritual and educational role of Māori experts and with them, their knowledge and practices. For generations, tā moko was oppressed by colonialist forces. Which is why it has been heartening to see Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta wear one with pride on the world stage - along with many other proud wāhine like, as shown in this story from TVNZ1’s Te Karere, Hania Douglas. She says “This is the revival of an art form that was nearly lost. I opened the door for my family and now they can do it – it’s not going to be this strange, abstract idea anymore.”

Pushing boundaries

Kalisolaite ‘Uhila.

Continuing the theme of pushing artistic boundaries off of walls and into the world around us, performance artist Kalisolaite ‘Uhila is the recipient of the prestigious biannual Harriet Friedlander residency. It’s worth $100,000 and will see ‘Uhila travel to New York. To date, his oeuvre includes conducting the tide at Oriental Bay, sleeping rough in Auckland’s city centre and spending time with a piglet in a pen in Māngere arts centre.  

As the Director of Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School Tumuaki/Director, Tanea Heke (Ngā Puhi) is used to quite literally bringing art to life. In a ceremony earlier this week, she was named the recipient of the 2020 Ngā Tohu Hautūtanga Auaha Toi Making a Difference award at the Te Waka Toi Awards. For the last 34 years, the awards have been recognising leading Māori artists, advocates and community leaders for outstanding achievement, leadership and excellence. You can see the whole Te Waka Toi awards ceremony - with the full recipients list - here. The passion for their culture and language is a joy to watch.

And while we’re discussing end of year accolades, the Ngā Kōrero Tuku Iho Oral History Awards 2020 have just been dished out, with an incredible variety of topics getting a much-needed spotlight.

In all, over $100,000 has been awarded among 13 different projects - while the New Zealand History Research Trust Fund Awards has produced around the same amount for nine other projects. In stats trumpeted by Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage, eight of the 22 projects were of kaupapa Māori, while 16 projects were led by women historians or researchers.

Listen to Tomorrow today

It’s already tomorrow album art by Daniel Blackball

The announcement of Creative New Zealand’s Emergency Funding seems like a lifetime ago, but we are beginning to see some truly wonderful works of art come out of it. This week, I have had the album It’s Already Tomorrow on high rotate. Produced/curated by John Psathas and Jack Hooker, the duo provided various artists with a “collective toolkit” to reshape into their own music in the midst of lockdown.

The remarkable result includes music by Purple Pilgrims, Indi and Grayson Gilmour. They were living in Germany, Greece, Serbia, and here in Aotearoa.

Mini grants to solve major headaches

Anyone who’s had to search for financial support in the creative community this year knows how exhaustive the process can be. The screeds of forms and hoops to jump through can be a daunting task for an experienced administrator, let alone an artist who just wants to focus on their work.  

Appreciated then is a new scheme from Creative Bay of Plenty - and it’s not limited to those who live in the area. The Western Bay of Plenty Arts Mini Grants have been officially launched, with grants of up to $2000 being issued for creative endeavours that can be produced or performed in BOP. Not only is the application form a relatively straightforward one, responses are expected within a fortnight of applying. There’s more detail here on The Big Idea - a good reason as the article suggests to ‘take your creativity on holiday with you’ this summer.

Festivals ups and downs

WOMAD scenes.

WOMAD is one of the most diverse lineups in our summer festival calendar, so it was a real shame to see the Taranaki Arts Festival Trust (TAFT) pulling out as production partner due to the risk of losing up to $3.5 million. RNZ reports this is due to “a difference of opinion between TAFT and WOMAD UK about the risk COVID-19 posed to events in New Zealand.” TAFT Chief executive Suzanne Porter says "We analysed what that financial risk was, modelled it right through.

"We could carry that risk through until about February and in February we start going over the $2 million mark and I need to be very clear here - TAFT carries the loss, so we couldn't take that risk."

 It is the biggest and most popular arts event in the region, with people from up and down the country flocking to Brooklands Park. Despite this setback, organisers still feel confident that the 2021 festival will take place.


Just down the road in Wellington, Cubadupa has confirmed a full street festival weekend on 27-28 March in 2021. They are promising 19+ hours of curated entertainment across 20 stages and creative zones, delivering 470 performances and 20 parades with over 1700 artists from all over Aotearoa – just the tonic after the year that was.