‘Pākehā, fill your mouth with kawakawa and hold it shut until it is numb. No more telling, it’s time to listen.’ [1]

On the March 15, 2019 something terrible happened in Aotearoa. It’s been hard to describe how I feel and hard to figure out ways of coming together, that don’t feel hopeless and marred by Pākehā guilt, erasure and false dichotomies. My heart aches for the Muslim community like my heart aches for my tupuna. Right now, the idea of writing an art review or engaging with art seems not only trivial, but ridiculous. It’s been difficult to find the words to even describe what happened over a week ago. It’s felt as though people are afraid to look one another in the eye. My whole body goes through a series of sensations like it is constantly discombobulating, trying to process and understand what has happened.

I mostly feel anger, but anger can drive action. When I think about my anger and the sense of helplessness I indulgently and painfully feel, I think of Audre Lorde, ‘...anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies, with whom we have grave differences, and who are our genuine enemies.’ [2]

My anger stems mostly through the frustration and denial of racism within Aotearoa via the media. Rage boils through my puku at the constant denial of our violent and painful history of colonisation. The shooter may have acted alone, but he drew upon the shared ideas and history that exist inside Aotearoa and every country that has ever been colonised. [3] Māori and all other Indigenous people do not share the colonial amnesia held by so many Pākehā. For instance, yesterday I sat on the grass at Victoria Park in Tāmaki Makaurau, at a rally on a field made of sand. Victoria Park was the original shoreline in Tāmaki Makaurau. Not unlike many cities in Australia and other settler colonies, Tāmaki Makaurau is built on ancient riverways, pā sites, burial sites, homes. It’s easy to deny colonialism if you aren’t looking or if your proximity to whiteness renders these histories invisible. The effects of white supremacy are embedded into the whenua of this land; Paptūānuku has been irretrievably altered.

Mātūtū is a word that means ‘To be not quite healed, not quite cured’. When I think about Papatūānuku and Aotearoa I think about the ways in which we can come together and heal, but that we can never fully cure the systemic and insidious racism in this country, until we acknowledge how deep rooted white violence has been in the creation of ‘New Zealand’.

Mātūtū is an exhibition by Holly Walker and Anna McAllister (Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki), which interrogates and contrasts the ongoing effects of colonialism via ecological imperialism. I have seen Mātūtū three times. Today I sat with this work reflecting upon the ways in which white supremacy and colonialism intersect and how this is the foundation of ‘New Zealand’. Mātūtū reminded me of the violent ways in which the land has been changed and gave me hope when trying to imagine ways in which we can come together despite the divisions imposed between us.

Two videos sit side-by-side inside a vitrine: one where McAllister is harvesting kawakawa and one where Walker is seen harvesting gorse. Both wear a simple white dress with a large pocket at the front. McAllister picks the kawakawa with her hands, while Walker cuts the gorse with secateurs. Each time they collect a piece they put it in the pocket in the front of the dress. Walker and McAllister dyed the fabric of both dresses with each plant. Both dresses appear slightly stained. The use of secateurs subtly seems to allude to the violent ways in which pākehā bodies reshaped this earth. Knowing the texture of both plants I think about Walker’s body being cut and scraped by the sharp gorse bush in stark contrast to the soft kawakawa (perhaps fruiting with yellow berries) brushing lightly against McAllister’s body.

Below each screen sits a pile of kawakawa and gorse, the piles are placed directly below each respective video work on the floor. It’s been interesting to watch the differences in the degradation of both plants throughout the duration of this exhibition. When the kawakawa was first harvested it was lush, buoyant and dark green. With each visit, the kawakawa had further withered and its leaves became darker to the point where they are almost as dark as its stalks. In comparison, the gorse remained full and relatively unchanged, besides the yellow flowers slowly becoming discoloured.

Kawakawa is a native plant, which is often used by Māori in ceremonies such as tangihanga (funerals) and in rongoā (medicine). It is used to treat cuts, wounds, stomach and rheumatic pain, skin disorders and toothache. There is specific tikanga and uses around kawakawa that is different between different iwi groups. For the most part kawakawa is considered tapu and needs to be blessed via a karakia while being harvested and/or used to remove tapu so it can be noa and able to be used. It has a peppery taste and smell. Gorse is a plant from Western Europe, which was introduced during colonisation by farmers and was used for hedges and windbreaks, particularly in the Canterbury plains from the 1850s. Gorse is not unlike the introduction of many plants and animals across settler colonies, just another part of British expansion. Once introduced it spread across hundreds of hectares of land. It currently covers almost 700,000 ha in Aotearoa. Typical methods for removal, such as burning it only creates better conditions for seeds to germinate. It is the worst agricultural weed in Aotearoa and there is currently no technology available to eradicate it. In recent times gorse has started to be used as a nursery for the regeneration of many species of native bush. When gorse becomes older it has plenty of space and can provide optimal conditions for native plants to grow up through the gorse, cutting out its sunlight and then eventually replacing it.

The accompanying text for Mātūtū is a fragmented conversation between the two artists, where they discuss their different realities, the ways in which colonialism intersects within their lives and also the way they come together. This means of coming together is represented through the way in which neither artist has demarcated whose work is whose in this text, because individualist frameworks are an inherently western construct. The words flow into each other and interrogate their different experiences and shared understandings. In Aotearoa, a lot of Pākehā seek to deny or distance themselves from colonisation and racism. This text explores the way this impacts the realities of both artists. A way racism exists and flourishes in Aotearoa is via coded language, exclusions and behaviours or ‘polite’ or ‘private’ racism. It’s often subtle and it’s harder to articulate these micro-aggressions, because there is an absence of explicitly racist language. It’s things like refusing to identify as ‘Pākehā’ and opting instead to be ‘Kiwi’. The text critiques the ‘neutrality’ of whiteness as a falsehood. For instance, the artists write, ‘Within Pākehā communities in Aotearoa, it is easy and thoughtless to identify as ‘kiwi’ or ‘new zealander’, it can feel like an entitled birthright, as if the story of our identity begun when we were born here. There is lack of cultural history, genealogy and accountability which fuels an anxious grip onto an ignorant bicultural rhetoric.’ [4]

Reading this text in light of the last eleven days challenges the notion that New Zealand is bicultural and tolerant. It even critiques the way in which New Zealand views itself as being ‘better than Australia’ or ‘not racist like Australia’, with even our former Prime minister John Key, stating in 2014 that ‘...New Zealand was settled peacefully’. [5] Again the artists write with urgency imagining an Aotearoa where we do better and acknowledging that we have a problem, ‘I think it’s wrong for people to compare us to other countries and say “we have come so far, and we are doing so much better than them” because that’s just not good enough…’ [6]

The ‘this is not us’ rhetoric Pākehā journalists and politicians are extrapolating in order to create a narrative that racism does not exist or that it only exists in ‘pockets’ displaces the everyday experience of racism by communities of colour and the true reality of a terrorist attack that happened to the Muslim community at the hands of a white supremacist. This is us. New Zealand is a racist country and was built off of white supremacy and continues to be shaped by this legacy. How do we change this?

2019 is the 250 year anniversary of Captain Cook ransacking Te Moana-nui-kiwa. The tension of navigating what this means for both Pākehā and Māori bodies is evident in Mātūtū and explored via contrasting the effects of empirical biological expansion. The placement of these works and experiences side by side is imbued with mutual respect, as well as an acknowledgement of difference and privilege. It is through talking about and being accountable to our intersecting histories that Pākehā and Māori can begin to talk about the mechanisms of colonialism within our everyday lives. The only way forward is to think of ways we can truly come together to acknowledge our differences and recognize the strength in difference and the way the legacy of white violence shaped our country, because as Morgan Godfrey has stated, ‘White supremacy can trace its roots—Māori would call it its whakapapa—to the 19th century and colonisation.’

 

[1] Anna McAllister, Holly Walker, Mātūtū. http://windowgallery.co.nz/content/2-exhibitions/1-matutu/matutu-online-text.pdf

[2] Audre Lorde, ‘Uses of Anger: Women responding to Racism’, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House. Great Britain: Penguin, pp. 26-27.

[3] Moana Jackson, ‘The connection between white supremacy and colonisation’. E-Tangata, March 24, 2019, https://e-tangata.co.nz/comment-and-analysis/the-connection-between-white-supremacy/

[4] McAllister and Walker, op. cit.

[5] ‘New Zealand “settled peacefully”—PM’, Stuff.co.nz, November 20, 2014, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/63377474/null

[6] McAllister and Walker, op. cit.

[7] Morgan Godfrey, ‘The Christchurch attacks and the path to earning our mana’, Overland, https://overland.org.au/2019/03/the-christchurch-attacks-and-the-path-to-earning-our-mana/

53673296_2265478516872143_7962449958932578304_o.jpg

Installation detail of Mātūtū, by Anna McAllister (pictured) and Holly Walker, two channel video, kawakawa and gorse, 2019, Window Gallery, Aukland, New Zealand.

Mya Cole, 2019

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Installation view of Mātūtū, by Anna McAllister (left) and Holly Walker (right), two channel video, kawakawa and gorse, 2019, Window Gallery, Aukland, New Zealand.

Mya Cole, 2019

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Installation detail of Mātūtū, by Anna McAllister and Holly Walker (pictured), two channel video, kawakawa and gorse, 2019, Window Gallery, Aukland, New Zealand.

Mya Cole, 2019

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Installation detail of Mātūtū, by Anna McAllister and Holly Walker, two channel video, kawakawa (pictured) and gorse, 2019, Window Gallery, Aukland, New Zealand.

Mya Cole, 2019

Hana Pera Aoake is an artist and poet based in Te Whanganui-a-tara, Aotearoa. Hana primarily works collaboratively within the indigenous art collective Fresh and Fruity with Mya Middleton, which initially started as an ARI based in Ōtepoti.  Hana is currently studying towards a Master of Fine Arts degree at Massey University. Hana is a Pania of the digital reef #online.