This is not a land of mysteries. Like most places in the world, this was discovered before Columbus set his grubby feet on what is now called America. Kupe was the first here, they say. Then came Abel Tasman and Cap’n Cook. And now every blessed inch is freely available to view and critique on Google Maps. But inside, what about inside? Has Google mapped that too?
For most of this year, I have been cleaning shit. Yes the S word. Faeces. First it was horse shit, then human. Explain? What is there to explain? I was at the RDA, then at a special school. Doesn’t that explain it all? But listen. I don’t want to talk about shit, I want to talk about travelling. I want to talk about discovery and fear and flying. The knot in the stomach, the bile in the mouth, the insane spinning of the skies. Have you ever jumped off a cliff?
This began, as all journeys seem to, with the jumping off a cliff, a quitting of jobs, a trusting of fate to the winds. And what a journey this has been. Did you know that horses can’t vomit? Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Or that just like the rest of us, the disabled need care, not pity? That there are at least 22 Pa sites in what is now called Hamilton? That the koru of the Punga tree is also known as bush asparagus. That pine needles can substitute for straw when laying down strawberry beds. That you can be poor and happy. That normal is just what you usually do. That op-shops don’t sell just second hand clothes, but a chance to get away from the waste and pollution of half arsed consumerism. That riding a horse could be as good as riding a motorbike. That people who give freely of their time and money and energy need not be on the Left. Or rich. Or even young. That a funny song can make a point better than an angry poem. That the Japanese government is yet to acknowledge the ‘comfort women’ from World War 2. And that if you wrestle lions in your sleep, you probably can beat most things when awake. Did you? I sure didn’t.
And now, 10 months later, it is almost time to go discover another place. While I am a huge fan of Pearly and Cédric’s epic cycle trip through south Asia, I cannot shake the feeling that they went too fast. While Tasman’s name for this land has stuck, it is Kupe’s and Cook’s tradition that I am interested in- they stayed put for a while. And as we prepare to move again, I must remind myself. To stay put. For a while.
But it all starts with jumping off a cliff.
don't ask me i don't give a damn, next stop is afghanistan
and it's five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates
ain't no time to wonder why, whoopee we're all gonna die
"blackmail press is a resource created to give poets, students and poetry lovers in New Zealand a site to read, submit and find great poetry. The impetus was to promote New Zealand poets and to provide an environment for emerging New Zealand poets to share their works."
rather kicked- i've been *really scared of submitting poetry to zines! i really like some of the poetry on, and am honoured to be a part of this!
most poets/artists live on appreciation and critique from friends and family, and i am deeply thankful to all the comments i have received. rather extra chuffed, though, to hear that amnesty international (aotearoa new zealand) has recognised one of my poems, 'in your language, not mine', and might be publishing it in their next mag.
I need to (uncharacteristically) put this down while it is fresh in my mind and heart.
Watched a movie this evening, called ‘Watani Habibi’. Made by filmmaker couple John Mandelberg and Janice Abo Ganis, the film is a 20 odd minute documentary on Palestinian musicians and dancers. While I expected a look at Israeli occupation and its effects, I did not expect a discussion/practice of art as resistance. Here, writing and singing songs were political acts in themselves, and enough reason for Mustafa al-Kurd’s expulsion from Israel/Palestine! The music in the film is hauntingly beautiful and the lyrics are simple, but deeply cutting. There is no Attenborough style commentary in the movie, and it is entirely in Arabic, with English sub-titles. The characters/artists speak for themselves, sometimes verbally, but more often through dance-drama and song. The film has avoided giving ‘background’ information to the situation in Palestine/Israel, and lets the artists speak about their current situation without trying to put it in context. A very interesting movie, and not least because it is quite literally resistance art in action, an idea that singer/musician Rim Banna is very conscious of and presents as a counterpoint to the guns and bombs of the occupation.
This was a very appropriate climax to another piece of art about Palestine, Joe Sacco’s ‘Palestine’. I love the graphic novel/comic format, and am delighted that it is being used to tell ‘important’ stories in a much more engaging manner. Reading a comic is *much more pleasurable than Wikipedia or a dry (if knowledgeable) history book! I’m going to avoid a review, as this one seems to say all I want to. While I am not sure if Joe’s graphic novel is ‘resistance’ (sorry about so many inverted commas), seeing as he writes from the (relative?) safety of the west, it is definitely political art, and definitely good.
And that’s all I wanted to say.
[special thanks to debbie, jay, blade, bruce, menaka and ashan!]
in your language, not mine
will i abuse and curse at you
and scream and rail and rant at you
in your language, not mine.
in your language, not mine
will i tear at your histories
claw at your imposed geographies
in your language, not mine.
and when this well of anger
has boiled away
and the wind has scattered
the ashes of our pain
we will sit
and laugh and even talk,
though in your language,
i'll take the river walk
from the shops
or the street named after
a dead (once murderous) queen.
i'll take the river walk
ancient waka landings
and memories of other rivers
in other places i call home.
i'll take the river walk
This 'history' of recent Maori art is based on Damian Skinner's introduction to his PhD thesis, submitted to Victoria University of Wellington in 2005. While it is a pity to reduce a well researched piece to bullet points, this seems the best way to draw out the content as well as to illustrate the inadequacy of any summary. Much of the material in this thesis (and more) is available in 'the Carver and the Artist' by the same author.
Damian has divided the thesis into four chapters, each chapter covering a phase of Maori art.
MAORITANGA: Ta Apirana Ngata (1920s to 1940s)
- massive land loss and rapid social and economic changes for the Maori tribes (Iwi/Hapu)
- in Ta Apirana's words:
a) emphasis on the continuing individuality of the Maori people
b) maintenance of such Maori characteristics and such features of Maori culture as present day circumstances permit
c) inculcation of pride in Maori history and traditions
d) retention so far as possible of old-time ceremonial
e) the continuous attempt to interpret the Maori point of view to the pakeha in power.
- conservative renovation of customary culture
- drawing on Maori cultural traditions, while using modern functions and construction materials
- centered around the marae and the whare whakairo (carved meeting house)
- concentration on craftsmanship and preservation of traditional skills and techniques
Maoritanga: Hone Taiapa (1950s to 1960s)
- continuation of Ta Apirana's philosophy
- whakairo (carving) becomes an internalised template, and operates without reference to originality and innovation
- new economic formations (e.g the tourist market) and new patrons (e.g the Mormon church)
- artist (head carver) as supervisor, and art piece (carving) as team/communal work
- Hone Taiapa, Pine Taiapa, Henare Toka, Piri Poutapu
Maori Modernism (1950s to 1960s)
- Maori artists emerging from Pakeha art schools
- Art educator Gordon Tovey's (National Supervisor Art and Culture) encouragement of experimentation in Maori Art
- Department of Education's patronage of Maori Modernists
- Artistic practice that was "individual, innovative and original"
- intentional positioning as different from the art of Maoritanga
- oriented away from 'customary culture' audience, and towards a Pakeha/International discourse
Pratene Matchitt, Arnold Wilson, Buck Nin, Cliff Whiting, Katerina Mataira
Contemporary Maori Art (1970s to 1980s)
- massive urbanisation of Maori in 50s and 60s
- Maori activist movements and increasing political consciousness among Maori
- attempts to bridge the critical distance (with Maoritanga) that Maori Modernism sought to establish
- a return to the marae as cultural centre
- an appeal to continuity with cultural forms older than Maoritanga
- articulation of Maori art as a tradition of change
Part of my interest in Maori art stems from a need to understand my own practice as a 'tribal' from North East India, with all the questions each of those terms beg to ask. In that context, here are some of the ideas that stood out.
a) 'Tradition' is as fluid an idea as 'contemporary'. On the one hand, much of 'traditional' Maori art today goes back to the 1930s and Ta Apirana Ngata's Maoritanga. On the other hand, Katerina Mataira's 1984 essay appeals to a 'tradition of change' in Maori culture when speaking for the legitimacy of Contemporary Maori art. Question to self: Which of the many available traditions am I interested in? Does it matter?
b) While there are varying perspectives on tradition, there does seem to be a visual continuity in the motifs and images used, especially in sculpture. While I cannot substantiate this without detailed study, and the work of the Maori Modernist period may well have been influenced by western Primitivism, motifs such as the 'koru' and the three fingered image seem to hold 20th century maori art together. Question to self: Are there common motifs in North East India I can use? Should I?
c) There are different ways to negotiate conflict and change. Ta Apirana chose to standardise some aspects of tradition, while allowing modernity in others. The Modernists defined themselves in their break from Ta Apirana's Maoritanga, and the Contemporary artists seem to be trying to make peace with Maoritanga and Modernism. Each of these negotiations have elements of separation and assimilation from/with dominant Pakeha/European/International culture. Question to self: What do I want to separate from, and what do I want to assimilate with?
More questions than answers, really. Ah well, story of my life!
*This is NOT a comprehensive list of names associated with this period/movement.
I sometimes think the tragedy of north east India is not so much that we are under developed, or that India cynically exploits/ignores us, or that we are caught in the crossfire between Indian armies and the rebels- it is that our own leaders are so willing to sell us out. This has been a consistent trend across party lines, with sucessive governments, it just doesn’t change. Just when one was getting used to the horror that the government of Manipur and Ibobi Singh (with complicity from the ‘opposition’) is inflicting on the sate, now comes the news that the Meghalaya government led my D.D. Lapang is pushing for the UCIL to mine uranium in the West Khasi Hills.
And it’s not as if the resistance has any real solutions either. When the Khasi Students Union, currently the only group really fighting this, got timber felling banned, they had no alternatives to offer for people who eked a living out of the industry. A similar story here- people are selling their land to the UCIL (happily the government cannot grab it) because at least they get ‘something’ from it. So there are your choices- you live and die in extreme poverty or live and die with uranium mining. There, that’s democracy. And while the KSU stand makes sense, they have no alternatives to offer. The same story played out across- In Assam, Hiteshwar Saikia’s ‘Surrendered ULFA’ cause(d) as much terror (more?) as the ULFA, only they have government backing. Ex rebels Zoramthanga and the MNF have done little for Mizoram, and were routed in the last elections.
One can hardly ignore these things even- while it is sordid politics (as Cabir put it), real people are suffering. And how does one ignore that?