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WWZD? In Conversation with Zara Stanhope

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Zara Stanhope. Zara is the Principal Curator at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki as well as Adjunct Professor at AUT University. Before coming to Toi o Tāmaki Zara was the Deputy Director and Senior Curator at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, Director at Adam Art Gallery Wellington and Assitant Director at Monash University Museum of Art, Melboure. Read more for what would Zara do?

What kind of art gets you excited?

Art that I don’t understand

There are a lot of moving parts in a big institution like the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. For the everyday Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki visitor where can they find your own curatorial influences?

My influences are often not evident as they are varied and might only become clear in retrospect. Like most people I am inspired by the world, both the natural world and the civilisations we have created, and the people in it. I am very sensitive to visual stimuli, but I also love to devour non-fiction and fiction writing, movies and great music. In saying that, it’s often writers as well as artists who open new doors in my thinking

You recently completed your PhD on social art practice in public spaces at The Australian National University, Canberra. Have you noticed any qualities specific to New Zealand social practice that makes it unique comparatively?

Its not always appropriate to compare different places as the distinct contexts of each are a part of what socially-engaged artists are involved with. Social or participatory art has a longer and different history in Europe, so that many artists work with one group or certain communities for long periods. Saying that, New Zealand situations are often less densely populated in comparison with cases that I studied in Japan, Mexico and Europe and have different urban issues. One distinctive feature is that many artists working in participatory projects in New Zealand, regardless of their background, find certain Māori concepts relevant to their practices in terms of respect for the natural world and its interconnection with humanity.

Filmscapes followed the premier of Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus (infected) and was Yang Fudong’s first New Zealand survey exhibition. It was definitely an important moment for Auckland audiences to see back to back film work of such high calibre. Do you see a series of ‘firsts’ coming for the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki?

The aim is for every exhibition we generate to be a first – to be distinctive, regardless of whether it is curated from our collection or focuses on one artist or a broader subject. Apart from exhibitions that we bring in from elsewhere my aim is for us to offer our audiences fresh art experiences that contribute toward the creation of our own cultures in this part of the world.

Space to Dream is ‘the first comprehensive exhibition of its kind to be generated in Australasia’. Why do you think it’s taken so long for this kind of show to develop and why now?

Space to Dream: Recent Art from South America is an extensive exhibition and accompanying visitor program, looking at art and culture from the late 1960s to now from the South American continent. We are able to undertake this project with integrity and with no fear of stereotyping other cultures as I worked with a Chilean curator Beatriz Bustos Oyanendal. We spent a great deal of time researching artists and working through ideas about how to give art from South America a framework or a face for New Zealand. Hence, the frame of Space to Dream, which posits the notion of artists who resist inequity and are change makers, who imagine new words and follow their dreams. It is also an investment in time and relations to create large international exhibitions which require the development of connections with artists, art museums, foundations and also funders. In addition, we were very keen for this to be an opportunity for artists to travel to New Zealand and create their own connections with other artists here.

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Ronald Durate, Fogo Cruzado (Crossfire), (still), 2002, courtesy of the artist, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The inclusion of artists who have since passed away in Space to Dream seems to highlight the length of time in which New Zealand art institutions and audiences have bypassed South American practices, what should we be looking out for when the exhibition opens on May 7?

When we talked with contemporary artists in South America it was clear that certain artists of previous generations were important for their work. Hence, we have included the work of key figures such as Paulo Bruscky, Lygia Clark, Helio Oticica, Antonio Manuel, Leon Ferrari , Lotty Rosenfeld, CADA and Mira Schendel, for example for this reason, to introduce their ideas as formative for the art of this region. However, you will find the works of different generations mixed together in the exhibition, just as artists from different countries appear in proximity, in order to suggest the dynamic complexity of life in this part of the world.

I asked Emma Ng (Curator of Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington) in a recent interview about her thoughts on framing New Zealand art practices within this idea of the ‘Asia Pacific’. Space to Dream makes me think that you might be more interested in notion of the ‘Pacific Rim’. Are these things you think about within you exhibition making?

When I came to Auckland I thought long and hard about our location in the world and the region, and how this sense of place may also align with or be in contrast to how we think about who we are. For me there are no names that neatly define our context. However, I think the global south as a term has been useful in differentiating a broader social context within a geographic zone. It is empowering as it situates us within the energies of a cross-cultural context and people with which we need to become much more engaged. At the Gallery we want to start opening up ourselves and our communities to our neighbours in Australaisa, the Asia Pacific, the Pacific Rim and beyond. Only by experiencing other cultures can we become more cosmopolitan, in the sense of knowing and understanding each other better.

Lastly any words of advice for any young curators?

There are young curators interested in many different art fields but across those interests all of us constantly need to keep asking questions and interrogating our own practices.

Fear Horror Terror at Wallace Gallery Morrinsville

Fear, horror, terror – all the primal human emotions gathered together in three simple words was the starting point for an exhibition of international print works exhibited recently at the Wallace Gallery, Morrinsville.

It brought together 19 printmakers from around the world and displayed their work for the first time in New Zealand. The venture behind the show, called, The International Print Exchange Programme, (IPEP), was established as an annual event to raise the profile of printmaking. It does this by arranging multiple exhibitions of the same show worldwide through an agreed process whereby each selected artist consents to take home to their respective countries the 19 winning prints with instruction to have them exhibited.

This year, New Zealand printmaker, Hanah-Amelia King was one of the selected artists. Her work, Narcissistic Significance, enabled New Zealand to have the opportunity to participate in this venture for the first time.

Artists from India, Peru, Iran, Ukraine, Mexico, USA and Australia were involved, each producing one work that reflected on the tripartite and universal human emotions mentioned above.

Most of the artists chose to interpret the brief in various figurative and representational ways. Only Aban Raza used complete abstract notations to communicate the experience of fear, associated in her case with the rise of religious fundamentalism. Her broad crosshatched mark making, using the silkscreen method, resulted in a dense spider-web forest of abbreviated lines butted into each other.

Luis Antonio Torres Villar took a more literal approach presenting small dark silhouette figures throwing their victims off a cliff and into a river.

Mutant forms proliferated throughout the show. Neera Singh Khandka created an etched figure of a hybrid animal with a man’s head bent back and howling at the moon.. The transparent body of this creature revealed a collaged collection of weaponry.

Ukrainian Oleksandra Sysa also employed the etching technique to create an expressionist tableau of anguished figures that recall Picasso’s Guernica, while Australian, Julia Wakfield, depicted fear in a small naked huddled figure whose shadow loomed up behind him like some giant homunculus.

The New Zealand entry, by King, chose something with a contemporary twist – a group of people fleeing an approaching army tank while a foregrounded figure takes a selfie of the event.

My only quibble about the show is that being Indian based, the selection favoured artists from that country. However it is good to see print works getting their due given that the medium is often treated like the bridesmaid to the main event. Good on the Wallace for addressing this imbalance.

Peter Dornauf

Hannah King Narcissistic Significance etching

Hannah Amelia-King, Narcissistic Significance, etching (photo courtesy of Wallace Gallery Morrinsville )

Louis Villar Fear surface printing

Louis Villar, Fear, surface printing (photo courtesy of Wallace Gallery Morrinsville )

WWFMD? In Conversation with Fresh Milk

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. Fresh Milk Art Platform Inc. or Fresh Milk for short is an artist run, nonprofit organisation based in Barbados in the Caribbean. Fresh Milk was founded in 2011 and is based on a working farm, they offer a diverse multi-disciplinary programme including international residencies. Read more for what would Fresh Milk do?

Some artist run initiatives start as a way of showing their own work or showing artists that they feel aren’t getting a lot of attention. Does Fresh Milk have a similar story?

Fresh Milk originally manifested as a space to address the nearly 100% attrition rate of BFA students at Barbados Community College (BCC), the only institution on the island offering a BFA programme. In 2011, it launched as a project/research space for the visual arts, and by late 2012 it had developed a micro-residency programme for local, regional and international artists. It has continued to grow and develop organically over the years to nurture the creative environment and be a space of possibility for young artists.

Who are the people behind Fresh Milk?

Currently, Fresh Milk has a core team of three. The Founding Director is Annalee Davis, an established Barbadian visual artist who also teaches part time in the BFA programme at BCC. Katherine Kennedy is an artist and writer who works as Fresh Milk’s Communications & Operations Manager, and Natalie McGuire is our Community Programming Curator. We also have a number of volunteers and project partners who are imperative to the sustainability of Fresh Milk.

I’ve seen a few things on your Instagram feed showcasing artists that are a part of your residency programme. Would you be able to tell me a little more about that?

Fresh Milk hosts local, regional and international residencies as a way to support the process of artmaking, while increasing visibility and expanding critical dialogues around contemporary art within the island and beyond our shores. The international programme has gained a great deal of interest over the last couple of years, particularly from Caribbean diasporic artists who are interested in reconnecting with the region and seeing how their work resonates in this space.

Maintaining an investment in the local arts community is of utmost importance to us, and every resident artist is required to carry out some form of community outreach as an open way of contributing to Barbados’ cultural development. Wherever an artist hails from, our focus is on fostering meaningful encounters that birth ongoing relationships and possibilities, extending far beyond the actual residency period.

How do the artists from overseas respond to or work in the Caribbean environment with its loaded history?

The residents from overseas who come to Fresh Milk usually have preconceived ideas of their project, but physically being in the space often opens up new connections to those ideas and how they might relate to the history of Barbados and the contemporary environment. We can’t speak on behalf of the artists, but each resident has logged their individual experiences in blogs that can be read here.

Recently you have been involved with a project called Transoceanic Visual Exchange (TVE) which included RM Gallery here in Aotearoa. What was that experience like for your artist-led space?

TVE was a project consisting of the virtual exchange of film and video works aimed at transcending borders while building a creative network outside of traditional geo-political zones of encounter and trade. The initiative resulted from connections made between Fresh Milk and two other artist led spaces who met at the David Dale Gallery’s International Artist Initiated project in Glasgow in 2014 – RM, Auckland and Video Art Network Lagos, Nigeria. The experience was unique for Fresh Milk in terms of presenting new media to Barbadian audiences, as well as the notion of creating an online exchange of works and generating a community-driven curatorial framework.

TVE exhibits an art form not widely seen in the island. Because new media doesn’t fit neatly into more familiar formats such as full length features or documentaries, we sensed a level of uncertainty about how to approach the work. Moving forward, we hope to develop educational programming as a vital component within TVE, encouraging a greater understanding of what new media is while supporting artists who are committed to this way of working.

What projects are you currently involved with?

We have local community programming projects involving schools in the area and have established Fresh Milk Books, a group of likeminded creatives who engage with the collection in the Colleen Lewis Reading Room. Examples of our ongoing collaborative projects include the Caribbean Linked residency programme, a crucial space for building awareness across disparate creative communities of the Caribbean. Another of our largest cooperative endeavours is Tilting Axis, an annual meeting of creative practitioners in the region and diaspora about best practices in Caribbean contemporary arts. More information on our initiatives can be found here.

And lastly, what advice would you give to artists interested in starting their own artist run initiative?

The first thing we would suggest is to look critically at the creative context you are working within and identify any strengths you want to build on or areas lacking support, so that your mission responds to the needs of your arts community and fills a void. Ensuring that you have a strong team of trusted, dedicated people to work with who share your vision would be our other piece of advice. The core team, our volunteers and partners have always been incredibly generous with their time and energy, and this has been invaluable to the success and impact of the platform and our projects. Also, believe in the power of what small initiatives in small places can do and go brave!

Body Hair 

My body has not always felt as if it was my own. For most of my life, it has felt as if it belonged, at least partly, to men.

One year during high school, the boys in my class made fun of the hair on my arms. I already felt nervous and ugly around boys. Forgetting to shave my legs, not bothering to shave above my knees, and having hair on my arms and on my stomach (where most of the other girls seemed not to), induced a sense of guilt. I felt as if it was my responsibility to make myself physically attractive to heterosexual and bisexual men, according to the Western beauty standards that had been drilled into me for as long as I could remember. I felt as if my body hair was my fault – that I wasn’t ‘feminine’ enough to please men and it was my duty to fix that. I needed to fit into the arguably prepubescent image of ‘acceptable femininity’ (1) that has been fed to men through the media since 1930s advertising campaigns for flapper dresses and other more ‘revealing’ styles began to show female models sans underarm and leg hair. (2)

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As Aisha Mirza (3) points out, according to Western customs, women’s body hair has come to be seen as ‘a weed that is pulled from [our] bodies systematically and without question… policed by a chokehold of patriarchy, capitalism, racism: shame’. In Mirza’s research she found that women of colour and working-class women were monitored more harshly by their families with regards to their body hair, and that the ‘social penalties’ they faced as a result of growing out their hair were greatly magnified in comparison to those faced by ‘white or middle/upper class women’. ‘Women of colour often expressed that body hair exacerbated their “differentness” from white or middle/upper-class women’. This sense of ‘difference’ was heightened further if they were also queer as well as being women of colour and/or working-class – non-heterosexual women ‘are often encouraged to pass as heterosexual to escape workplace discrimination, violence, and negative judgments’ (4). The failure to remove body hair, for a woman, is read by many as a presentation of queerness in terms of sexual orientation, according to Western stereotypes regarding the performance of gender by hetero and homosexual women. 

I am a white, cis-gendered, middle-class woman. Therefore, my personal experiences with body hair cannot encompass the multitude of experiences had by people whose identities are different from mine. I consulted a couple of friends, both of whom are non-binary people of colour.

One of the friends I spoke to identifies as a FAAB and a non-binary person who ‘used to feel that body hair was an important way to present more “androgynously”’ – and therefore, they grew out their body hair at one point. This garnered predominantly ‘negative’ reactions. They started shaving about a year ago for a number of reasons, one of which was to appear ‘“professional”’ as a doctor in the eyes of the general public. They noted that ‘professional’ is generally equated with ‘the norm’, and that while they feel that it is important to challenge social norms, ‘it was more important to me to let patients feel comfortable with me’. ‘I believe that by improving the health of marginalised people, I’m contributing positive changes in the world as a form of my own activism. Also, there are various other ways I can support activism. I feel that even my existence as a non-binary queer person in medical school could challenge certain cultural norms’. With regards to feminist theory’s advocacy for choice, they added, ‘It might sound paradoxical but I chose on my own will to accept societal pressures, to protect myself, to lessen my anxiety. I’m not perpetuating these pressures, I’m simply individually accepting [them] into my life’.

When I told my mum about my decision to stop shaving, she was mainly concerned because I already struggle with anxiety and low self-esteem, and she felt that failing to adhere to this seemingly trivial yet powerful social norm would make it even harder for me to gain confidence. She has also told me in the past that shaving is seen as part of ‘making an effort’ with my appearance. This seems to be linked to the idea of women’s body hair as ‘dirty’, and of its removal as a cleaning ritual. Foucault (as referenced by Mirza) posits that female shaving has ‘come… to be seen by us as self-care, rather than as a process which may reflect gender or economic power relations – or racial ones’.

For women of colour, Mirza adds, the idea of dirtiness can extend to the darkness of one’s skin. Pakistani activist Sabah Choudrey is a transgender male who recounts his earlier experiences as a ‘hairy brown girl’ (5) living in the U.K. For Choudrey, the Western beauty standards and ‘male gaze’ were especially harsh – the demand seemed to be to ‘return to a pre-pubescent female body, and lighten your skin while you’re at it’. Choudrey’s relationship with his body hair once he realised his identity as a transgender male did not miraculously become an easier one. Rather, now, Choudrey had to deal with Western society’s ‘demonis[ation]’ (6) of ‘hairy brown men’ – specifically, of Muslim men. In a similar vein, the other friend I consulted mentioned that because East Asian men tend to have less body hair than white men, East Asian men are considered to be ‘less masculine’. This prejudice would be intensified even further for East Asian transgender men.

This friend also spoke about transgender women being policed for or for not shaving. Outside of feminist circles, they explained, transgender women sometimes choose to shave in order to ‘pass’ more effectively and thereby to avoid violence as well as to be read as feminine. Whereas within feminist circles, a woman’s decision to not shave is sometimes praised.

However, this is not the case in wider society. One of my co-workers exclaimed, “You’re so hairy, why don’t you shave?” and when I gave an abridged version of an explanation, she dismissed this with, “Oh well, maybe some men are into that,” which not only denied the possibility of me being anything other than heterosexual, but also put the locus of social power back into men’s hands. Why should men’s desires take precedence over my own? I’ve also been asked, “But what if a future sexual partner would prefer you to shave?” This suggests that the feelings of a potential partner about my body would be more important than my own feelings. Such a sentiment aligns with Western ways of teaching women to always put others before themselves, and to be gentle and accommodating. As Fahs observes, ‘women do gender… and… body work’ partly to ‘manage the anxieties and expectations of others’. (7)

I’ve been warned that one day I might have the kind of job that will require me to shave in order to appear ‘professional’, and to make others feel ‘comfortable’. I just wonder why infantilising women and reinforcing patriarchal beauty standards are a part of  ‘professionalism’? My choices about my own body and my own self-presentation are private, personal choices. (That said, maybe I’m being naïve. Maybe one day I will have to sacrifice this part of my autonomy in order to make a living).

After all those years of feeling like I wasn’t attractive enough, struggling to fit into the normative category of a woman, I am taking control of my own appearance. Even when I did shave my legs and armpits, and used hair removal cream on my stomach, I wasn’t removing enough hair, and I wasn’t smooth enough to satisfy a man. Cultivating such a feeling is a system of control that keeps cosmetic industries, in tandem with advertising agencies, working away at women’s self-esteem. I don’t buy into it – literally and figuratively.

Rhianna Lennox

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  1. Toerien, Merran, Sue Wilkinson, and Precilla Y.L. Choi. “Body Hair Removal: The ‘Mundane’ Production of Normative Femininity.” Sex Roles 52, 5/6 (2005): 399.

  2. Fahs, Breanne. “Dreaded ‘Otherness’: Heteronormative Patrolling in Women’s Body Hair Rebellions.” Gender & Society 25, 4 (2011): 453.

  3. Mirza, Aisha. “Women of Colour and Body Hair.” Young, Colored & Angry. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://www.youngcoloredandangry.com/womenofcolourbodyhair/

  4. Fahs, Breanne. “Dreaded ‘Otherness’: Heteronormative Patrolling in Women’s Body Hair Rebellions.” 452.

  5. Choudrey, Sabah. “I Was A Hairy Brown Girl; There Was Nothing Wrong With Me Then and There Is Nothing Wrong With Me Now.” xojane. Accessed February 12, 2016. http://www.xojane.com/issues/i-was-a-hairy-brown-girlthere-was-nothing-wrong-with-me-then-and-there-is-nothing-wrong-with-me-now

  6. Choudrey, Sabah. “I Am A Hairy Brown Man; Do You See A Terrorist When You Look At Me?” xojane. Accessed February 12, 2016. http://www.xojane.com/healthy/i-am-a-hairy-brown-man-do-you-see-a-terrorist-when-you-look-at-me

  7. Fahs, Breanne. “Dreaded ‘Otherness’: Heteronormative Patrolling in Women’s Body Hair Rebellions.” 452.

 

WWID? In Conversation with I: project space

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Anna and Antonie. Anna and Antonie are the founders of the independent I: project space located in down town Beijing, China. As well as a diverse exhibition programme with accompanying public programming I: project space also runs an annual residency for New Zealand artists funded by The Asia New Zealand Foundation. Read more for what would I: project space do?

What is I: project space?

I: project space is an independent and non-profit art space based the Hutongs, in the heart of Beijing. The space was founded by Antonie Angerer and Anna-Viktoria Eschbach in August 2014. It consists of three main elements: An exhibition programme, residencies for artists, curators and researches supplemented by a public programme in the form of art salons, artist talks, screenings, conferences, workshops etc.

For those of our readers who might not know too much about I: project space what are the curatorial drivers going on and how is your programming structured?

For us it is very important to offer Beijing’s vivid and growing art scene a space, where artist can experiment outside the art market as commercial galleries are still the dominant force in China’s art scene. We work together with artists based in China on exhibitions, as well our residents are free to use the gallery space for exhibitions or other public events. In this way we can create an on-going exchange between local and visiting artists.

One of the advantages an independent space offers, is, that the programming is more flexible and allows us to try out new forms of presenting art. One topic, that we have been researching since last June, is the question of how to present digital artworks in a physical space. It is a reoccurring issue for us and we tried to approach the conflict from various angles and within various formats. One experiment, for example, was to leave our exhibition space and do a popup exhibition in a close by Internet café.

It seems as though there was a conscious decision to found your space within Hutong and outside of the ‘art districts’ of Beijing. How do you see your space operating within the current arts landscape of the city and within China?

In China there was a certain trend of opening so-called art districts like we have in Beijing with 798 or Caochangdi. As important as these districts were for the art scene, they are now very much detached from the art discourse and also real life in China. We wanted to go back to an area of the city, where people could interact more directly again with art.

When we opened the space in 2014 a wave of other spaces also started opening independent spaces or community centers in the Hutong area. Now there is a network of spaces in the Hutongs that offers a real alternative to the art districts and hopefully will keep on growing.

The urban environment of the Hutong seems to be a lot about the idea of the ‘local’ with an active sense of community through shared spaces such as courtyards and even bathrooms. With an active residency programme and also with you two being from Europe how important is this idea of the local urban environment and how are you able to foster dialogues between the local and international?

For us it is very important to be part of a local community and also the network of creatives in Beijing. As mentioned in the question, living and working in our shared-courtyard, we have a constant interaction with daily life here in Beijing. This is also fundamentally a part of the project and influences it in various ways.

As we are not originally from China we have networks overseas and so we are able to act as connectors. On the one hand we of course want to create a platform for art experimentation here in China for local artists and art researchers, but we also want to be an international platform. Through a close network with artists and other spaces here in Beijing, we have been able to create a platform that connects the scene in Beijing with different projects coming into Beijing or artists going abroad (www.iasbeijing.org).

One of the projects, that was realised through this platform, is the “Independent Art Spaces” festival. The aim for this festival is to get the local independent scene connected and create attention for the work the various spaces are doing, but also link the network in Beijing with our networks in other parts of the world and create a real global discourse.

In a few months I: project space is co hosting a conference called Overwhelming Imagination: Achieving and Undermining Contradictions. This seems like a mighty task for a small artist run space, could you tell us a little more about your hopes and aims for this conference?

It is all about networks! As you said, we will co-host this event together with the amazing researchers Ellen Larson and Madeleine Eschenburg and Kiki Liu from Sishang Art Museum. We are organising the conference to bring together exciting, innovative people from all over the world together rather than the same  collection of “old, white men”. Beijing and China is becoming more and more a center for art and we would like to mark that by speaking about the topic and questions that are new and relevant worldwide.

If you were to list only 5 artists that you think the world should know about, who would they be?

It is always hard to limit yourself when it comes to exciting artists, but I would say Hito Steyerl, Anne Imhof, Wu Ding, Li Ming and Cao Fei. 

Lastly do you have any words of advice of young curators?

Find likeminded people and just give it a try!

Tears into Lemonade

In recent months a substantial amount of social media commentary in ‘progressive’ spaces has been marked by the flowing of ‘white tears’, or Pākehā justifications for racism. This type of symbolic violence reveals an ignorance on the part of passive or well meaning Pākehā that must be challenged if these spaces are to become safe for all people.

For many, Waitangi weekend is a time to highlight a history of Aotearoa that is desperately pushed aside by mainstream Pākehā society. A history of colonial theft, exploitation and genocide. It is a time of dissent and resistance, reminding those intent on forgetting, that this history lives and breathes. It is also a time when the most explicit racism that exists in our society comes to the fore. Babbling, defensive Pākehā, faced with the reality of our belonging and history in this land, go to great lengths to silence the truth and maintain the collective amnesia that so comfortably upholds the status quo.

It is also when the music festival Chronophonium is held. The festival attracts, it’s safe to say, an alternative music and arts community, predominantly from Tāmaki Makaurau. This community has a generally ‘left leaning’ (for lack of a better phrase), ‘progressive’ core, which is why it makes sense that people got pissed of at a white artist at the festival wearing a “$2 shop Hawaiian lei” which he was told to take off. For some reason, festivals are some kind of incubating chamber for white people appropriating Indigenous cultural symbols and taonga. Lei are no exception.

In the words of Hawaiian activist and writer, Anne Keala Kelly;

 “I’d like to say, on behalf of every unapologetic Hawaiian whoever did or will live, the following: when people throw those parties and give those lei, they look like they’re eating vomit, culture vomit to be exact. Because that’s what it is. It’s so clearly intended to mean as much as one of those party favor whistles you can find at a kid’s birthday celebration. And yet, it’s a specific appropriation of something traditionally Hawaiian, so there’s a little race hatred mixed in.”

 It’s unfortunate that this shit still happens in a community that attempts to create spaces that don’t engage in and yet further systemic oppression. But it does. What is more troubling is the response. The lei example is just the latest in a host of social media displays of racism where, instead of confronting, dealing with and changing racist behaviour, news feeds and threads are flooded with white tears and unaccountability. It’s less about the artist thinking it was ok to take a commodified version of a taonga from a culture brutalised by colonisation and treat it like a glow stick or a herbal high. It’s that he felt safe enough to cry about getting told off for it to this online community. And this opens up a more insidious issue a culture of acceptance and passivity.

On more than one occasion over the last couple of months, white people in this community have attacked accounts of lived experiences of racism on Facebook. Alongside attacking people’s experiences, there is a trend of commenters expecting to be educated. When white tears fall in response to someone’s personal experience that they wish to share, or when confronted with ideas of racism it isn’t up to those affected to wipe the tears and play the role of educator. But for some reason, it has become normal to expect this behaviour.

As put by Clara Chon in one of these educational instances:

“It’s actually amazing you can’t ever talk about experiences with racism without having people shade you for racebaiting. No, you don’t derail the conversation, make it about yourself and get mad at the person for bringing it up. You get angry AT the person perpetuating the stereotype of white people being racist. Of course not all white people are racist, we all know that – just like how not all men are sexists. When someone talks of white privilege, it’s not implying that white people will never struggle in life – what it means though, is that as a white person you will not have your whiteness affect you negatively, be it your everyday encounters with people, eurocentric standards of beauty in media, immigration policies, housing etc. Before you go all ‘oh boo hoo these POCs think I’m racist I better correct them’, ask yourself why you feel the need to invalidate other people’s direct experiences with your limited understanding? If it’s not about you and you are not racist, why are you being so dismissive? Also it’s super patronising to question someone’s intelligence for even daring to talk about racism, pls check yourselves.”

Defensive comments on social media give recurring examples of how systems of oppression can be rhetorically reinforced. Aside from expecting 101’s at any given time, re-framing situations of violence according to a rhetoric that dilutes the situation in the interest of comforting the oppressor is an act of violence. For example, it is not ok to refer to a racist problem as a ‘race problem.’ All too often white people who are confronted with, or have to respond to situations that occur because of racism subtly change their language to describe such situations as occurring because of an issue of ‘race’. This results in framing the conversation around the idea that the source of the issue is abstracted from the person or the structure that inherently or overtly oppresses that person. This relieves those who are part of the problem from any responsibility to change it. Brian Jones explains this with the example of the line ‘he was shot because he was black.’ But as he points out, black skin doesn’t attract bullets. He was shot because the shooter was racist, because society is racist. This mirrors the point above: why do people either ignore, or get mad at the idea of an issue, instead of the person who perpetuates the issue itself? Diluting reality in the interest of comfort is not ok. It is the problem.

We need spaces of decolonial self-education. It’s ok not to feel confident or well-educated within this conversation, there is always a starting point. What is important is how a person’s lack of knowledge is then approached, with a genuine engagement in understanding personal implications within systems of oppression. Why stand in solidarity with an issue that seemingly doesn’t affect you? Why bother moving conversations toward difficult topics when irony and removed gestures are so well accepted and supported? Because, to quote Chon again,

ignoring only exacerbates systematic oppression which operates not just on race, but also on the indivisibly linked levels of gender, sexuality, age and class.”

Whether it’s in micro-aggressions and violent behaviour within art spaces, online debate, a racist party on K’road , or an exhibition of glitter rolled race hate vomit, it isn’t good enough to remain passive. That doesn’t mean satisfying your own ego by vaguely distancing yourself sometimes, and being on the ‘right side’. It means speaking up when it’s difficult, creating safe spaces, and thinking about space. Listening, following and standing behind. It means self-education and meaningful change.

That, or amnesia, and eat vomit forever.

Ella Grace McPherson-Newton

Musings on Death

I recently acquired a carte-de-visite from a Wellington store which specialises in stamps, postcards, and ‘old photographs’. For those of you unfamiliar with the carte-de-visite (or cdv), it’s a type of photograph patented by Andre Disderi, in Paris, 1853. Disderi invented a camera with multiple lenses, enabling subjects at his studio to leave with a selection of portraits, printed onto albumen paper and mounted onto separate cards of about 6.5x10cm. Easily reproducible, the cdv was intended for distribution to family and friends, and usually collected in albums designed for that purpose.

This new addition to my cdv collection is of an extremely dapper but slightly morose looking young man.  Aged in his early 20s, he slouches in the studio’s padded chair, wearing a suit with a waistcoat, the chain of his fob watch visible. He has a splendid mop of hair that would put Hugh Grant (circa 1995) to shame, and he’d look right at home on the pages of http://mydaguerreotypeboyfriend.tumblr.com.

However, for me, the appeal of this photograph was the name of the photographer, printed on the reverse of the cdv: ‘Henry Death, Portrait Painter & Photographer, 119 Camberwell Road.’ What a fantastic name for a photographer: I can imagine him with a cup of tea in one hand and a scythe in the other. Except the photographers’ scythe is the camera, of course, which relentlessly captures moments now passed, gone, dead. Writers on photography have extensively explored the relationship between photography and death, with Roland Barthes declaring in Camera Lucida, “All those young photographers who are at work in the world, determined upon the capture of actuality, do not know that they are agents of Death.” (1)

This single cdv tells a larger story about the evolution and distribution of photography, and our newer, digital methods of distributing photographs and information about them. That Henry Death was both a portrait painter and a photographer points to the challenge that photography posed to traditional art forms during the mid 19th century. Many – Mr Death apparently included – had to apply their existing creative and technical skills (presumably painting) to new technologies (photography), or find a balance whereby old and new practices of representation could co-exist within their business. Unlike a painted portrait or earlier photographic forms such as the daguerreotype, the cdv was affordable and collectable. This in part contributed to its popularity and the expansion and dissemination of photography as a commercial, consumable form during the 1860s. Formulaic and repetitive in its use of similar backdrops, respectable clothing, classical architectural props and elegant furniture, the cdv enabled subjects to appear middle class even if they weren’t. While cdv occasionally contain personal, regional or national references, the structure of their visual content makes one cdv remarkably similar to another.

Where had this wonderfully named photographer lived and applied his trades? London, apparently, where he had two studios: one in Addington Place on Camberwell Road, from 1856-1863 (2), the second at 119 Camberwell Road in Camberwell, from 1863-1887. Further research reveals three studio stamp verso designs were used on his photographs during different times in his career; that he produced hand-painted ambrotypes at one point (most likely during the early 1860s); and that, as of a 2012 online real estate listing, the property at 119 Camberwell Road was still standing, with the floor to ceiling windows necessary for a nineteenth century studio (3). Examples of Death’s portraits are also held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria, Melbourne and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. In relation to one of Death’s ambrotypes, Powerhouse curator Geoff Barker observes the importance of maintaining the Museum’s collection of ambrotypes, “…as examples [of] early photographic processes in Australia in this period and its links with British immigration.” (4) My recently acquired cdv likely travelled to New Zealand with an immigrant, or was perhaps posted from London, as a memento. We begin, through Death’s portraits, to get a small sense of the distribution networks of the cdv and the flow of photographs from one place to another.

Death’s cdv held by the State Library of Victoria is of a young woman, standing straight-backed, her hands resting on the back of a chair or chaise, regarding us solemnly. (5) Its physical appearance is much the same as my cdv; the same scripted studio details are printed on the verso. Yet interestingly, the library has also applied the index terms “Australia; Henry Death; studio portraits; Victoria; Camberwell Road”. This cdv is part of a large donated collection comprised of 19th century photographs of Australia, and it is possible that, given the absence of anything indicating otherwise, the cdv was presumed on accession to have been produced in Australia: on the back is written in pencil “England? Victoria?” indicating some uncertainty. The studio address on the back of the cdv might be expected to clarify its origin, but, unhelpfully, there is also a Camberwell Road in Melbourne. It is the duplication of the street name, coupled with the relative lack of descriptive information in the photograph that might lead to confusion as to where this particular cdv originated – not clearly being ‘British’ or ‘Australian’ or ‘New Zealand’ in appearance.

Untitled-1

It could be argued it’s unnecessary to know the place of production, the ‘origin’ of any particular cdv, in order to understand the greater significance of the cdv as a social and cultural form. It may only be of interest to museum registrars, collection curators, and photo historians such as myself who have a predilection for the minutiae that accompany particular photographs. But smaller histories or case studies can assist in bringing to light larger patterns and their significance. This single cdv, for example, invites us to consider the cultural, economic and technological shifts suggested by “Portrait Painter and Photographer”, as stamped on the verso of Henry Death’s photographs. Knowing the origin of a photograph furthermore gives a clearer indication of how photographs were distributed and used in the nineteenth century. But of most interest is the conflict between the ‘sameness’ of the cdv as a form of cultural production (underscored by the confusion surrounding the State Library of Victoria example) and the individuality of the subject. The cdv has often been described as obscuring the individuality of the subject in favour of a ‘performance’ of middle class-ness. (6) The young man in this cdv may be middle class, or he may just appear to be. But regardless of this, something of his character comes through: he’s sullen, unhappy, resigned to something. This photograph highlights the paradox of the cdv: the delicate negotiation between the ‘sameness’ of this cultural form, and the assertion of the subject’s character. Henry Death’s morose young man reminds us it’s this balance that makes the carte-de-visite such a rich field for further photo historical research and contemplation.

Deidra Sullivan

  1. Roland Barthes, (1981), Camera Lucida, New York, Hill & Wang, 91

  2. http://www.photolondon.org.uk/pages/details.asp?pid=2162
  3. The various studio stamps on the verso of Death’s work are evident on pieces held by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney (registration no. H5779), the State Library of Victoria (Accession no(s) H2005.34/1040; H2005.34/1040A) and on examples of Death’s portraits posted online by photo history enthusiasts (http://www.antiquedogphotographs.co.uk/2013/08/black-and-tan-terrier-in-camberwell.html or https://www.flickr.com/photos/34370769@N07/8693971503/in/photostream/).  The piece held at the Powerhouse is a hand-painted ambrotype. A listing and description of 119 Camberwell Road is available on the UK real estate site www.zoopla.co.uk/property-history/119-camberwell-road/london 

  4. http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/collection/database/?irn=244349
  5. See http://www.slv.vic.gov.au/search-discover using the search terms ‘Henry Death’

  6. See for example, Michel Frizot, (1998), A New History of Photography, Cologne, Koneman, p.110.

WWED? In Conversation with Emma Ng

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Emma Ng. Emma is the Curator/Manager at Enjoy Public Art Gallery in central Wellington. She moved to Enjoy not long after completing the Blumhardt Curatorial Internship at The Dowse and last year was a part of the Asia New Zealand Curators tour to Asia. Read more for what would Emma do?

What kind of art gets you excited?

I’m a sucker for anything speculative, semi-fictional, or stranger than fiction. I went to design school rather than art school, and design schools are stuffed full of optimism. While some naivety has worn away, I like speculative projects because they inherently express a desire for experimentation and change, underscored by a stubborn belief that alternatives to present conditions are possible.

Enjoy Public Art Gallery occupies a fairly unique space within Wellington’s art community and you’ve been the curator/manager there for roughly 2 years now, how have you found it? What have been the challenges or highlights for you curatorially?

Curating is such a public job! Your output is always being examined, judged, and nitpicked, and as a young curator it’s very scary accepting that failure (while a learning experience) is something you inevitably have to do in front of lots of other people – and likely do it over, and over, and over again.

Enjoy occupies a unique space within Wellington in that there are very few artist-run spaces in the city. Given that, along with its age and its progression from artist-run to ‘public art gallery’, Enjoy is a lot of things to a lot of people. Trying to meet everyone’s expectations of Enjoy is a Sisyphean trap; even at 12 shows a year, our time and resources are stretched, and we get many many more proposals than that 12. So one of the biggest personal challenges has been saying no to artists – it’s hard not to take on and be overwhelmed by their disappointment, vulnerability, and frustration.

I’m very proud of an offsite group project we did last year, The levelling of Puke Ahu, which responded to a very specific moment and local site. It was full of so many rich connections, and featured site-specific works by Izzy O’Neill & Elijah Winter, Angela Kilford, and Bronwyn Holloway-Smith. However it was also a project that demonstrated the difficulty of engaging people’s attention in the short window of opportunity you have when they scan an email announcement or Facebook event. It’s very difficult to get people along to projects when the format falls outside of the usual exhibition model.

There’s an interesting hierarchy between the curator fixed to an institution and the roaming curator. Having an institution is luxurious in many ways because of access to space but also incredibly laborious, how have you found 2 years of pumping out a continuous programme, how do you keep it interesting?

It’s definitely a privilege to be given a space to programme but yeah, so much to do to keep the place running and provide a stable base for the raison d’être. We do lots of invisible work like accounting, reporting, cleaning, painting, and directing lost visitors to Peter McLeavey (same floor, just around the stairs).

There’s lots of ways to keep things interesting; last year was all about variety. We ran the numbers for 2015 and realised we’d produced 53 exhibitions/essays/publications/events – a huge output for a staff of one full-timer and one part-timer. Though we’re not publicising it as such, this year the programme is structured into two seasons of related solo projects that have thematic connections, with buffer solo shows dotted in-between.

Speaking of the differences between institutional and roaming curators, I would love it if more freelance curators pitched projects to us during our call for proposals. It would be a win-win – freshening up Enjoy’s programme and allowing us to share the use of our space and resources.

What do you see next for yourself?

I’m discovering how easy it is to slip into being a lazy curator… This is especially true when you’re only able to give a fraction of your time to the conceptual development of a project. For this reason, I’m keen to study again once I finish up at Enjoy, to refresh my sense of intellectual rigour and have the opportunity to focus on depth rather than breadth (unafforded by the catch-your-breath pace of the gallery programme).

You recently wrote a piece for Pantograph Punch called Old Asian, New Asian. Are these conversations surrounding culture and specifically your culture as a New Zealand born Chinese woman important to or informing your curatorial interests?

Absolutely, though I don’t think they necessarily manifest in obvious or intentional ways. For example, I’m extraordinarily proud of the high representation of female artists and artists of colour that I’ve worked with during my time at Enjoy, which wasn’t at all deliberate.

This year I’m hoping to do a project that consciously considers New Zealand’s demography, which is exciting as working towards a gallery outcome has quite different potential from the work that a piece of writing (like Old Asian, New Asian) does. The project will hopefully be much more collaborative, propositional, and forward looking than that essay. As mentioned in my answer to the opening question, I harbour a strong streak of optimism, and want to produce a project that can engage these conversations with constructive outcomes.

There’s a feeling that we are aggressively moving towards framing ourselves and our art practices within this idea of the ‘Asia Pacific’, although this term often feels slightly clumsy and at times even opportunistic. What do you think about this framework?

I think a shift towards conceiving of ourselves as part of an Asia-Pacific perhaps seems aggressive within the arts, but to many New Zealanders it’s still quite a wacky proposition. When it is talked about it’s usually in the context of economic benefit (as with discussions around immigration, diversity, and ‘superdiversity’).

Art practice can play a part in bringing to light historic and genealogical arguments for realigning our cultural identity, as has been done in past projects such as Anna-Marie White’s The Maui Dynasty, and last year’s These stories began before we arrived. I like to think of these projects as part of a family tree that projects that you (Lana) and I might do can descend from, collectively building a nuanced contribution to wider conversation around these issues.

It’s a conversation that plays out in very real ways in the everyday lives of New Zealanders. I think it’s incredibly significant that Statistics New Zealand projects that Māori, Pacific, and Asian peoples will make up 52% of the total population in 2038. I believe there’s strength to be found in the relationships between these minorities, a strength that allows them agency beyond their relationships to a dominant Pākehā society. Unfortunately this isn’t the way things currently are – for example new Asian migrants often have very little understanding of The Treaty, and it’s been reported that while Pākehā attitudes towards migrants are improving, those held by Māori are becoming increasingly negative. We have to be cautious about oversimplifying these issues or using art to absolve guilt, but if there’s any vehicle able to preserve the entanglement and humanity in these conversations, it’s probably art.

Do you notice any gaps within our country’s arts landscape?

I would love to see some more artist-run spaces pop up in Wellington; there seem to be murmurings on this front that might turn into things this year… And like many, I lament our failure to communicate the value of contemporary art in the mainstream press and the dearth of coverage that’s become the status quo.

And lastly, do you have any advice for young curators? 

Something I learned from the amazing team at the Dowse: it’s all about people and building relationships (tending the va!). Sometimes the rewards will come to fruition a long way down the track.

Nitty Gritty

This is an on-going series that investigates Bella Horlor’s new role as a young mother. An artist and poet, Horlor shares the banal quandaries that exist between artistic and maternal labour.


So I have a tendency to get extremely poetic when it comes to motherhood. It really is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me. But.

Humans are messy, humans can be annoying, humans can be hilariously absurd. Having a baby is a concentrated intimate version.

For instance, for months I have been unable to leave the baby alone while I go to the toilet, so she has to come with me. I take easily sterilised toys (no plushies) and try keep her occupied and in one place. Now that she can crawl she has become curious about what lies behind the toilet, so I have to fend her off, dangle toys in her face, and protect my limbs from her gnashing jaws.

Sometimes she crawls off and I have to try call her back, mid bowel movement, as I hear various things crashing to the ground.

I had to baby proof the lounge because she kept ripping apart my paperbacks. She now has six shelves for her toys and books. The best use of those shelves is apparently to pull everything off them into a heap on the floor, then sit on top of the heap. When I try put things away she slaps at my hands like a possessive beaver with her dam and incoherently shrieks.. Then she pulls them all off again with flourish, giving me the self-satisfied look of, “What are you going to do about it huh?!”

Sisyphus never had so much cheek.

Then there are meal times. You can’t feed her with a spoon, she feeds herself with the spoon thankyouverymuch. Sometimes she pokes herself in the eye with the spoon and that is definitely my fault. So I have to hand the plastic cup and spoon to her, and she goes about her bizarre feeding rituals. Pumpkin purée seems to be a wonderful facial treatment however it does leave her looking distinctly Oompa Loompa. Lately she’s even been trying to shove the food into her ear canal, and when I stop her I’m the asshole, again. Eventually she tires of the eating process so this maniacal orange ball of flesh will pelt me with her food and utensils. Then protest loudly when I take it away or try clean up.

But you know what they say, ‘Food before one is just for fun.’ She’s still mainly breastfed which is a lovely experience. Although the solids are doing crazy things to her digestive system. Her little tummy was making all sorts of creaks and she was grizzling with the pain of cramps. So, like any girl, she was comfort eating through it. I had her all cradled tightly and I was singing soft folk songs, her eyelids were slowing down beautifully when she makes a loud straining noise and I feel a little purr followed by the most ghastly smell. The strain and all that comfort milk must have been too much, and she vomits profusely down her front. My girl isn’t fond of being soiled so she just cries and cries and I’m trying to wipe her down, ripping off her nappy and onesie,  as she tries to roll and crawl away. I’m chasing after her trying to get all of the poo off her bum before she sits down and smears it everywhere. So that’s fun. Sometimes she gets her hand in it and I have to stop her from eating it or smearing it on her face.

Some days by the time my partner gets home, I’m just standing at the window missing half my hair, with scratches on my chest and dried food on my dress. But even then the baby and I are usually giggling.

She just learned to dance recently. It really is all quite fun.

Bella Horlor