In Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu, Rangi White (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Wairoa) constructs untold lessons within the apparatus of state education. Arranged through OHP foils and marker pens, whiteboards and graphic resources, White repurposes the teacher’s tools to tell another story, one to unnerve and alarm those living in Aotearoa. Beginning with the vowel-chart Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu that is shared across te reo Māori and English, White foregrounds a disjunction, as letters and sounds fail to correlate in an education system that reinscribes colonialism.
Extending White’s engagement in Māori and settler-colonial education, Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu invokes ‘the child’ as a resonant figure within Māori story-telling and illustrative traditions. The child of Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu walks the sidewalk – a figure of conscience, innocence, and vulnerability. The world around them appears as a dark vision, a frightening place that children walk astride. In children’s stories – both Māori and Pākehā – the child may encounter a menace, as the path becomes a perilous journey leading to knowledge and recognition. The child is changed through struggle.
The Māori children’s literature series te ao Mārama (1992 - 1996) acts as source material for White, with the anthology’s editor, Witi Ihimaera, describing this mode of representation as the “harsher side of our children’s lives.” This is the tradition of Māori story-telling that Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu resides within, and in keeping with the pūrākau of te ao Marama, White affirms a journey that leads back to Māoritanga; as the forms of koiri, ngaru, and puhoro appear atop the pavement.
The young bodies of Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu are cast in silhouette, and the only light is carried by passing cars that threaten the child’s solitary walk. The light, as it is, remains. And the figure, drawn from darkness, appears as a new being of the world, a creation – te ao Mārama. This is a child shared as unity, an archetype of youth that reaches out to the world amid calls for the decolonial, the indigenous, and the emancipatory.
About the Artist
Rangi White (Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu Ki Wairoa) is a self-taught artist based in Tāmaki Makaurau. Attending state schools in Hamilton during the 1990s and 2000s, White went on to study at the Māori Studies department at the University of Auckland. This educational journey has been formative to the creation of Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu, as well as his ongoing engagement in Māori and settler colonial education. White recently worked as a studio assistant to the artist Emily Karaka, and continues to draw inspiration from her blend of treaty politics and visual art.
Rangi White is part of the art collective Inspiration Group.
*Paper Anniversary’s commission from Aa-Ee-Ii-Oo-Uu will be donated to Child Action Poverty Group and Auckland Action Against Poverty.