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Chevron Te Whetumatarau Hassett, Mum with wakahuia
When I was studying art in high school, it was very rare that I could find a Māori artist to inspire my research — rarer still to find a Māori photographer. Historically we have always been in front of the lens, categorised, fetishised by classical anthropologists, consistently portrayed by an external “other”. We were Victorian-style portraits in black and white, or primitive brown bodies crouched before a fire. We were tourism ads, heavily edited in bad taste, to lure tourists into meeting “the simple folk of a time gone by.”
When I first came across Chev’s work, my first reaction was one of deep excitement. Here, FINALLY, I relished the moment of seeing someone who is young, who is Māori, in control of the image and the stories it tells. No longer a slave to the stranger and their pocket Pentax, finally someone to guide whakaaro Māori (Māori ways of thinking) in the work they are creating, and gifting to the world.
Chev’s images are an insight into his whakapapa. He invites us in, and through the image we gather and share stories of his whānau, and his iwi (Ngāti Porou). Here, his Pākehā mother holds up a waka huia, a taonga made for her by Chev’s father. Raised into the sky, I feel a certain reverence for the piece, and what it means for telling the kōrero of one’s whānau. For me at least, there is a kind of deeply felt nostalgia. While these figures are not my own family, they are archetypal characters in whom I recognise my own loved ones.
There is a word in Ngāi Tūhoe, “matemateaone”. The word speaks literally to how we all die by the same dirt, but more so than this, the word is something that is only recognised when felt. Some say it represents the land that we all eventually return to, and our duty to protect it. Some may say it invokes a shared humanity, and the recognition of people in the faces and actions of others. To feed others is to feed oneself, and to connect with a person is to connect with their tīpuna, their whakapapa, the land that fed and nourished them. E ai ki te kōrero, he aha te mea nui o te Ao? Ko te whakautu: “he tangata, he tangata, he tangata”. He whakaaro tēnei ki roto i ēnei whakaahua. Mai i te huinga o te tangata ki te tangata, te kanohi ki te kanohi, ka puta mai te whanaungatanga, me ngā whakaaro hōhonu mō ngā iwi kē o te Ao.
These are things I feel when I see Chev’s images. I see my own uncles and aunties, working on the marae. I see our kuia in their diva-like glory. Our taonga, treasured and loved as they are, amongst the taiao (natural environment). There is a desire to connect and to whakarongo (listen). The narrative is distinctly Ngāti Porou, an iwi of people who, as Chev proudly told me, were probably one of the first to occupy Aotearoa. In this image, I recognise my own Pākehā mother, and the deep connection she feels to Te Ao Māori, having carried and raised two Māori children of her own. In what ways are our Pākehā parents, our Pākehā whānau, weaved into the narrative of whakapapa Māori?
I think there is a story to tell, if you look into these images deep enough. The story is one of colonisation, and of the modern Māori. Especially in art, that conversation has not been unaddressed. Ralph Hotere, Michel Tuffery, Robyn Kahukiwa, are all Polynesian artists who have successfully explored culture in modernity, and in diaspora. The interaction of Te Ao Māori and Te Ao Pākeha has a well documented conversation over many different realms of creativity. Nevertheless, these images offer something new to that conversation; a resounding statement that these people are here to stay.
As a single image, this photo is emotive, a face raised to enlightenment in Te Ao Mārama. As a series though, this work becomes a narrative. The people of these images, clad in everyday clothing, seem finally comfortable to be in view. Photographed in places of significance, the ngahere, the moana, and on the marae, this is the revitalisation of Māoritanga on this land.
Those paua eyes set deep in the waka huia glare at me. Inside them is a challenge and an invitation; pull fast into the currents or be swept away. It’s not the most traditional method of kōrero, but Te Ao Māori is definitely at least as cool as Chev is making it out to be.
He kōrero kei runga mō te huinga tāngata ki roto i te ao. He whakawhanaungatanga ka puta atu, mai i te noho kanohi ki te kanohi . Koinei te āhua o ngā pikitia nei. Ko te mahi a te kaiwhakaahua, he mahi hononga. Māku e kī, ko te wero me whakanui tātou i ēnei mahi hononga, ngā mahi toi a te rangatahi Māori. Nā te mea, ko te rangatahi i tā i te ao kei waenganui, kei mua hoki, i a tātou. Tīhei mauri ora.