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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

MFA, Sept 13-19 2021

Presentation by artist Brett Graham, Thomas Slade (PhD NZ Wars), connecting with Myra, hui with Shannon, writing thesis proposal.

1. Brett Graham - Tai Moana Tai Tangata

Cease Tide of Wrong-Doing. Brett Graham, 2020. Wood and paint. Image Neil Pardington.

For me, Brett Graham's talk (via zoom during lockdown) was one of the most moving and profound artist presentations I have experienced. It was both a personal narrative, as well as the narrative of his iwi, shared in a measured voice despite past injustices to his people.

Brett described his process of researching the history of the Taranaki wars, and how these, and the war monuments recalled from his childhood, influenced and informed his sculptural art pieces. The sheer size of Brett's artworks break through the wall of misinformation surrounding the history of Taranaki land confiscations and give his people an opportunity to tell their history with dignity and pride. Hearing the narratives of his art in his own words, and their relevance to his iwi, enabled me to understand them more fully, especially when Brett spoke about his Taranaki iwi holding the kete of spiritual knowledge - it reaffirmed the tenor of his artwork for me, which holds a feeling of reverence and sacredness. This feeling is especially evident in his sculpture Cease Tide of Wrong-Doing, which is composed of a black, upright wooden pole with platforms carved in whakairo. It refers to a practice used by his ancestors as they sought spiritual knowledge.

As I sat listening, I became acutely aware of my shame for my ancestor's role in his people's suffering. How is it that James Rapley's actions can travel from a past long ago to revisit the lives of his ancestors in this present moment? I am reminded of Sara Ahmed's comments about emotions and feeling persisting in the landscape, and her idea that time allows us to understand how to deal with, and what to do with, our feelings and emotions. This is certainly true for me. Brett's intention is that his art enables us all to reimagine a better future by understanding the past more clearly. This it does.

2. Thomas Slade

Keeping with the theme of Taranaki Land Wars, I joined Thomas Slade's presentation on his project for his PhD confirmation, which approaches this history from a Pākehā perspective that is willing to question how our "European sense of superiority built an environment which fostered (my) lack of understanding of

what is commonly referred to as the New Zealand Wars".

This is his abstract -

"I am working with a research method of an oral narrative inquiry that

values communication with Māori to acknowledge the multiple ways history

can be interpreted. My intention is not to speak for Māori but to inform

myself as a Pākehā to offer new narratives around how the New Zealand

Wars can be remembered and address how the colonial voice has dominated

history. My research has allowed me to question how my identity as a

Pākehā has been misinformed by knowing only part of my history. I hope

that through the final process of publicly presenting a photographic

exhibition to inform my audience and encourage them to re-evaluate the past

and take responsibility for the impact the wars have had on the present."

It was interesting to hear the level of research and cross referencing in his presentation, and the support from fellow academics and students. His oral narrative methodology will pose interesting challenges for a thesis that will be described within the medium of photography and the written language. How will Thomas retain the immediacy and engagement of the audience so evident in the way an image is brought to life through oral narrative? I suggested he might consider replacing 'history' with 'histories', as it could offer a more open dialogue and provoke a stronger counter position to colonial frameworks.

3.Hui with Shannon

Great feedback and suggestions from Shannon on my thesis to date. We spoke of how my exploration of becoming pakeha this year will still be relevant to what I do next year, even though it seems a shift in focus. Really helpful to connect with him.

4.Meeting with Myra

Myra rang and asked if we could meet as she had read my poetry 'nested nows' and just wanted to check in with me that she understood what I needed. We shared an ice cream at her place and I came home with a bag of lemons, after enjoying a lovely chat together. Myra encouraged me to try and be clear on what is appropriate behaviour and custom, as each iwi has different protocols which are important to respect.

5.Thesis proposal writing

Rewriting and re structuring underway. It is helpful to summaries the processes and understandings that have occurred this year as I can see a shift in my art practice.


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