“I am Māori” - My Response to Jacinda's Portrait
Cultural Identity. The most powerful element woven into our whole being, but yet was one of my biggest insecurities I had while growing up. An insecurity I thought I had conquered, until I did a drawing of Jacinda Ardern...
I've always been into art, since a kid. During lock-down I picked up the pencils again, a young wannabe artist simply drawing for myself.
On April 25th 2020, I posted a drawing that changed my life.
I went from 200 to 15,000 followers on Facebook within 48 hours. She went viral, she reached over a million people world wide. I freaked out ... and so did a few of you.
The response was beyond overwhelming, most were heart warming and resonated deeply. But few were not happy, for two reasons. In which one I understand and am apologetic for, and the other ... I'm most definitely not.
Cultural Appropriation is a heavy subject, especially right now in our current climate. I depicted our Prime Minister of how I personally viewed her. Most cultural elements in her portrait were done so intuitively and though my intentions were pure, I understand how it had offended some.
Going deeper, I believe colonisation is the sad reason our people lead the statistics of suicides, mental health, conviction and so on. You can not traumatically strip ones whole identity and sense of belonging without the huge consequence of their future generations being BROKEN. Ancestral pain is still strong and well, I know this because I felt it resurface in some of the heavy energy that was projected on me. It made me shake, It made me cry. I felt it all.
The Huia feather. I mistakenly used a sacred symbol to our people, in a portrait of a non-Māori. I originally chose the feather to represent the difference of leadership and connection I see in Jacinda compared to other world leaders. But after a lot of beautiful and educational korero, with other Te Ao Māori. I understand why some were upset at the feather (particularly) depicted on Jacinda to represent that idea.
For that, I apologise. <3
I know my response to this is delayed. I didn't want to just come out and say 'soz guys' simply because things got heavy. I needed to get through that phase, process it, then really gather my thoughts and discover how I truly felt. I hope you understand I had many different responses, it was hard to filter out the genuine from the sheep ...
I had people loving her, then suddenly against her when the backlash started. I had people offended at the korowai but not the feather, then people offended at the feather and not the korowai. I had some taking and editing her, adding moko kauae which absolutely broke my heart. Which of course, I was approached aggressively over from those who believed I did that. I had people editing the contrast as they believed I had deliberately tried to make her dark skinned. I had racist comments towards me that hurt. I had one saying 'she'll throw hands' and other Māori in my defense. The response was huge, and diverse, there is still a lot out there I haven't seen - and I try not to. I had many telling me what I did wrong while I had a whole other crowd telling me I had a right. This was all going on while I didn't say a thing. Mentally, it fucked me up man ...
The next reason and the hardest for me personally was the assumptions made on my background. An already delicate and personal subject. Some of my people attacked me for using 'their' taonga, believing I was pākehā.
But I am not a pākehā artist ...
It was so hard for me to stand up and correct those who made these assumptions. I am Māori, but they see a white name, and 'white' skin and talk about me as if we are divided.
That really hit home. That sense of rejection from your own culture, its not a nice feeling. Something I continue to feel. It's the whole reason why I decided to finally write this piece.
My Mum's Māori, Dad's British. He moved from the UK just to be with mum. They both had it tough young and made it on their own, I guess that connection alone was powerful enough to overcome any other differences they had. Including the colour of their skin.
While I was growing up they never portrayed any sense of division, there was no talk about cultural differences in a way that it should matter. I admire this, but also believed it made me a bit naive. I use to be one of those annoying ones that would be like "Why can't we all get along" I learnt very fast this can't be the case. Not until Māori are no longer a minority in our society.
Mum hid her pain very well, but I feel it now. She fought hard every single day against systematic racism while living in Auckland. The wife of a white business man, having 'white' kids, often being the only brown wahine in her work place and brown parent at school. From the way she raised us, to purposely giving us all white names. This was her way of protecting us from the same discrimination she had endured her whole entire life.
I think many forget it was not long ago our parents and grandparents were still hit for speaking their native tongue, and that were told to live like the white man if they wanted to succeed. This perspective continued to be implemented in their kids, and I can see our current generation finally breaking that cycle.
I hope this gives you an idea on why I and many other Māori are still learning. Re-parenting and navigating back to our history. Our lack of cultural knowledge is the result of that wisdom being stripped from us - and it's not our fault.
I hope my portrait and what I've learnt - what WE have learnt, can be an example of that.
I don't regret that piece. Because she created so many discussions, many that forced viewers to either reflect or resonate, or both. She proved the power of ART as she caused so much without me having to say a word. She sparked some uncomfortable but necessary korero. It brought awareness to cultural appropriation, and now after karakia before each drawing I become more conscious of what I'm about to create. She lead many to my other mahi that embraces Māori. She became an icon of our nations lock-down. Most of all, she really challenged me to confront who I am and she truly did spark an important conversation on the big gap we have between Māori and Pakeha in New Zealand.
As I said, we are a minority. I don't have a solution to fix that but I know it doesn't start with going against one another simply because one doesn't fit the stereotype of how you think a Māori 'should' be, look or behave.
At the end of the day, I'm just another mixed kid trying to figure out where I sit at the table, and there is a lot of us here in Aotearoa ...
So please whānau, instead of crucifying us because of our colonised state,
Lets educate ...
So we can learn to ELEVATE.