Make a big difference to The Big Idea.  Help us tell the most creative stories.

Home  /  Stories  / 

Time for Uncomfortable Conversations

22 Jul 2021
Challenging perspectives and challenging decisions - the Lowdown looks at the week's creative news that hits a nerve.

For decades, Aotearoa has hung its hat on our multiculturalism. Proudly touting Māori imagery and customs as staples of our identity (haka, anyone?) and labelling Auckland the biggest Polynesian city in the world.

But it’s only in recent years that these claims have even begun to be backed up as a true acceptance and celebration of the many cultures that make up this country.

And don’t be fooled - there’s a long way to go yet.

But the creative community continues to be a constant source for not just championing the wonders of this wide array of cultures - but also of discussion, dissection and challenging of the issues these cultures face in our society. 

Just a quick glance at the coverage of the arts this week makes this clear.

Fresh off what is fast becoming a highlight of the creative calendar in Matariki, questions are being asked about the role te reo Māori is playing in the arts.

Stuff writes about how Māori music is evolving in the mainstream element of the industry, a discussion largely driven by the recent bilingual music initiative sparked by APRA AMCOS, Creative NZ and the Māori Language Commission.

The programme, Pokapū, will fund support for artists to work with mātanga reo/language experts to translate existing songs from English into te reo Māori, and with pronunciation to record and perform waiata.

It also notes steps taken like Recorded Music NZ beginning a te reo Māori music chart last month to highlight what songs are tracking well. 

The article is mostly in support of the initiative but does include a pointed shot at who exactly stands to profit from it by musician, engineer and label manager Huia Hamon.

She declared a concern that some producers with “saviour” complexes were acting as if they were reviving Māori music, by making it more commercial or mainstream.

“It feels like [executives] profit off artists’ work. It doesn’t go back into the culture or language. Being Māori has become trendy,” Hamon said. “It’s cool to say things in te reo. To a lot of people, that’s really important. But people are misguided.”

Finding the balance between english and te reo is starting to prove an important direction for many creatives. Performances and exhibits throughout Matariki included examples of this, as well as the return of Ahikāroa on Māori TV next month.

The bilingual drama is into its fourth season of knocking down accessibility barriers to audiences engaging with te reo without the requirement of full immersion, which can be daunting to those who are just beginning their journey with the language.

Bella Rakete. Photo: Supplied.

Ahikāroa’s return to both streaming and our screens next month is featured on NZ Herald in a rare, non-paywalled arts story, including featuring Bella Rakete, an actress and Elam School of Fine Arts graduate.

She says of advice from her famous father Robert Rakete - “there are no limits to what you can do when you are creative and I'm just running with that. I'm constantly looking for any artistic medium that I can convey te ao Māori stories through. Whether it's a paintbrush, poetry or through my character, Dylan, on Ahikāroa."

Having a show targeted towards rangatahi that empowers te reo Māori is something generations before them could barely have dreamed of. That’s clear in this engaging piece on artist/activist Hohepa Thompson on how he embraced what made others uncomfortable.

He adopted the common slur Hōri as his Gallery's name to “reclaim it and spin it ... it's a challenging word in itself, and we use it to challenge people.”

His story is a perfect example of that tokenism that has existed for so long. Sure, he’d be called up to be front and centre when a haka needed to be performed, but he speaks painfully of feeling outcast at his Wellington college to the point he gave up on his te reo Māori.

Artwork from Hohepa Thompson. Photo: Hōri Facebook page.

It’s what he calls “the biggest regret of my life.” - his headline-grabbing work - like changing the name in his Ōtaki shop to ‘Brotaki’ - is his way of making up for it. And ironically, it’s proving hugely inclusive - Thomson says his work annoys Pākehā and Māori equally.

Another fresh read this week which offers equal insight into how culture - and other people’s perception of it - influences creativity is screenwriter and playwright Victor Rodger’s piece on The Pantograph Punch.

Part of the site’s Pacific Arts Legacy Project, it’s a fascinating insight into the mind of one of our most respected creatives.

Rodger speaks to that same theme of growing up without feeling comfortable with his culture. “Too brown for the whities, two white for the brownies; both sides ready to tell you what you were and, more to the point, what you were not.”

His works may not be the traditional embracing of Pasifika culture, but it’s a take that has resonated with many. “My face, and others like it, may not be the face of Sāmoa but that we all are a face of Sāmoa.” 

The key to multiculturalism is not just referring to all “other” cultures collectively, but giving each their own voice. 

Creative New Zealand’s first-ever breakdown of Māori, Pasifika and Asian communities in their latest New Zealanders and the Arts – Ko Aotearoa me ōna Toi research survey is likely to be just the start of identifying each culture as its own, unique sector. There is plenty of room for growth, including honest kōrero around racism and identity. 

Pasifika as a term has plenty of room for investigation too. Lumping Samoa, Tonga, Niue, Fiji, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and all the countries of the Pacific together does not sit well with many, as explained in this RNZ story.

This is not a ‘kumbaya’ moment. We are not a nation that shares equal footing around the table for all ethnicities to its fullest potential. But it’s important conversations, uncomfortable questions and dedicated encouragement like the creative community is bringing to the spotlight that help get us there.

No place for pirates

It’s not often you hear from the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ - not to be confused with the performing arts advocacy group PANNZ).

And it’s certainly not common for its tone to be aggressive.

But in a joint statement with the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA), they’ve launched a scathing attack on the National Library of New Zealand (NLNZ) for essentially making a deal with the devil - a partnership with “pirates” the Internet Archive.

NLNZ is effectively handing over hundreds of thousands of books to the Internet Archive from its collection, to an organisation that illegally distributes works by NZ authors, with Janet Frame, Patricia Grace, Keri Hulme, Witi Ihimaera, Albert Wendt cited as examples - and that was just on the day the partnership was announced.

Donating - not selling - the books to an organisation that is the centre of a major international lawsuit with accusations of illegal activity.

National Library of Aotearoa. Photo: Paul McCredie.

“We are stunned the National Library would partner with internet pirates that damage New Zealand literature on a daily basis,” says PANZ President Graeme Cosslett. 

“The Internet Archive’s repeated infringements of New Zealand works shows their true nature – no claim to made-up laws, fake protocols or sanctimonious ideals can obscure this – they are committed to taking work from Aotearoa’s authors and publishers. How can the National Library stand alongside internet pirates and not New Zealand’s own literary community?”

“The Internet Archive’s online distribution of copyright books is illegal,” says NZSA Chief Executive Jenny Nagle, “American colleagues have described what the Internet Archive is doing as ‘no different than heaving a brick through a grocery store window and handing out the food – and then congratulating yourself for providing a public service.’ 

“Now their made-up ruse of ‘controlled digital lending’ means they’re simply asking people to form an orderly line around the block before receiving stolen goods. Hearing our own National Librarian repeat this lawless rationale is frightening.”

The archive is a bain of authors and publishers alike - once the works are up and being distributed, then begins the time-absorbing and unnecessarily costly process of enforcing their rights to get it removed. But of course, the damage is already done in many cases.

Can you blame them for feeling so passionately against NLNZ ‘sleeping with the enemy’?

As you’d expect from one of the most dedicated defenders of Aotearoa’s literary world, Steve Braunias has taken this to task in ReadingRoom, stating the “National Library loses the plot, again.”

They quote respected writer Dr Paula Morris “ "I really don't know what the National Library is up to, or why it made this decision without consulting anyone who has a clue. Four of my novels are available through Internet Archive, though they have made no rights payments and sought no permission. I get worn out playing whack-a-mole with online pirates like this."

NLNZ has spoken  - and reaffirmed to PANZ/NZSA that writers will be given an opt-out opportunity in their deal with Internet Archive. No one seems convinced.

Sam Elworthy, publisher at Auckland University Press told Braunias "by partnering with Internet Archive, to steal our stuff and give it away for free, New Zealand’s national library is giving a big two fingers to authors and publishers."

The minister in charge of the National Library - Jan Tinetti - has been called on to ensure this deal with pirates is blown out of the water. The stakes are high, and those who would normally shy away from a stand-up fight are ready to roll their sleeves up.

Inspired by sound

No one can doubt Troy Kingi’s creativity.

A Taite award for his musical imagination is proof of that alone, as he ventures towards the halfway mark of his ambitious 10/10/10 - ten albums, in 10 different genres, over 10 years. (He’s explained the process in the past, worth a read).

With his latest release Black Sea Golden Ladder, the 2021 Silver Scroll Shortlisted artist is also breaking new ground with the launch of a visual album “that explores an existential life experience” - covered in Te Ao Maōri News.

Like everything Kingi touches, it looks like a trip. The songs from his new album serve as inspiration for this collaboration with Hi Mama Productions, Te Māngai Pāho and seven Māori directors - as well as some talented actors.

“We had an ensemble of seven Māori directors who took each of those different phases (of life) and listened to the song and took it in their own perspective of what they thought that phase or that stage of life looked like," Kingi says.

It definitely has touches of Tarantino about it in the trailer, and is further example of how the use of te reo Māori is becoming such a poignant artistic expression, like with other genre-defying artists like Mara TK.

Getting national recognition

Do the arts get enough recognition? Depends who you ask, but most reading this bulletin would think, as a generous presumption, there could be more.

So here’s the opportunity to continue what is becoming quite the legacy for creative minds in this country, with the call for nominations underway for the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards.

It’s a domain where Aotearoa creative minds have more than held their own, claiming five of the last 10 winners of the top prize in Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Taika Waititi, Dame Anne Salmond, Mike King and Sir Richard Taylor. 

2020 New Zealander of the Year Jennifer Ward-Lealand. Photo: Supplied.

There will no doubt be others who deserve to follow in those footsteps. The award criteria calls for those whose “achievements and contributions that have made a big, positive contribution to our country this year. Their achievements have positive effects on how we feel about our nation and ourselves.” 

There are other options that could easily fit too, including Young New Zealander of the Year, Senior New Zealander of the Year and Local Hero of the Year.

You can nominate here - or do you have any ideas you want to bounce around or get support on from The Big Idea? You can email us here.

Calling all creatives

Cubadupa 2021. Photo: Olivia Crawford Photography.

There are plenty of other calls to action for creatives right now.

Open Christchurch, the one-weekend-only celebration of architectural excellence, is calling for building nominations for its 2022 progamme, closing 8 August.

CubaDupa has put out the feelers of expressions of interest for “wildly creative ideas” to be part of next March’s big event - applications closing on 15 August.

While Indian creatives have their chance to put their names forward to perform at this year’s Diwali Festival in October.