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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Costello, workbooks

Week 11, 1-5 June 2020

Artist Talk by Nicolas Galanin, essay writing for FA Research and Art in Context, writing about St Alban's Art Project and Friday ropu discussion.


This was a special artist talk - a Zoom presentation by Nicolas Galanin/Yéil Ya-Tseen, a Tlingit-Unangax̂ artist from south-east Alaska and Massey University alumni.

Galanin's artwork celebrates the traditions and art-making practices of his indigenous community (he comes from a family of wood carvers), while highlighting how colonisation silences and marginalises local indigenous communities. Galanin addresses issues of cultural appropriation, fetishisation of indigenous practices, and environmental issues. His art operates to activate social change.

Galanin began by referencing the current riots in USA following the police murder of George Floyd and the 2010 police killing of John T Williams. He discussed how stories can be erased by amnesia and whitewashed by words e.g. "kneeling" rather than "murder", and museum indigenous art that was "collected" rather than "stolen".

His art is forceful and direct, his message clearly stated while layered with nuances, e.g. My Ears are Numb (2012), is a response to John T Williams' killing. It is composed of a drum wrapped in a US flag, and a red cedar nightstick (baton). Williams, who was carrying an adze (he was a wood carver), was hearing impaired and did not respond to police warnings as he crossed the road. He was shot 4 times.

Galanin's works are unnerving in their directness. There is no escaping his honesty and anger about crimes committed by colonising nations on his people and other indigenous groups. Inert Wolf (2011) is disturbing and powerful and Galanin is not afraid to disrupt and disturb his audience. He is driven to protect the things he loves. It is this emotion that makes his art so real and so important.

(Photos from Galanin's website)


Struggling to write these essays. Due in a week. Too many things juggling in my head.


Our Story We were planted together, in front of the newly built Anglican church, two saplings selected from many young pōhutukawa growing in a local nursery established by European settlers recently arrived to Aotearoa. It is May 14th, 1910 in Eastbourne New Zealand. Within the last 70 years almost all trace of the beech forests which came down to the shoreline - a rare feature in the North Island - has been erased. So too the traces of Te Atiawa, and before them Ngati Ira, of Te Whanganui-a-Tara. For over a thousand years they had sheltered among the beech forests in Pā sites at Ngāmatau, Oruamatoro, Matuaiwi and Korohiwa. Rare carvings in karaka trees are reminders of their settlement at Kohangapiripiri. These settlers chose us to guard their church, not the oaks or yew trees that mark their sacred places back home. They have come to a new land filled with its own living forms, histories and tangata whenua. Did they know of our lineage? Had they heard of Tawhaki climbing to the gods above to seek help to avenge the death of his father? It is his blood, as he fell, that imbued the pōhutukawa flower its crimson red. Did they know of our ancient ancestor who still clings to rugged cliffs on the northern-most headland of Te Rerenga Wairua? It is this, the most sacred of our trees, that embraces all Māori spirits as they slide down its roots into the sea below on their return to Hawaiiki-A-Nui. For 110 years we have stood as sentinels at the entrance to your church. We are the portal through which every child who was christened, every couple who married and every person who died passed through before entering and leaving your most-sacred-of-places. We have held your children who climbed among our branches, offered shade during summer heat, shelter in rain and created a space for your people to gather, to greet and to farewell one another. We have heard the murmur of your conversations and quietly offered our reassurance that all will be okay, even in those darkest of days. We are gone now. You said we grew too tall and our roots, that searched for water, have spread into places you would rather we had not. Some cried as they watched us fall, lying like soldiers massacred on a battlefield. No karakia was offered, no thanks for the fallen.

Now your church is empty and silent and all trace of our existence erased. We are gone.

4.FRIDAY ROPU CLASS We discussed art displayed in a manner that added to its potency, contemporary art and activist indigenous art that moved us These were some of our responses -

  • Semiconductor: The Technological Sublime at CGW:

  • uncle gagi @ play_station,


  • hjelmar von danneville

  • Sonya Lacey The Dowse

  • Elizabeth Bourgeiou?



  • precinct 35






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