Music, joy, freedom. Singing and cracking up till our cheeks burned. As Māori kids, growing up in the 1970s, we were loud and proud. We came from a loud and proud culture.
About a decade ago, a friend of mine had a stint running a government department. She asked if I would do a workshop with the staff to make a big whakapapa quilt showing bright, happy, open tamariki. I asked why we were working with the staff and not with tamariki. Her reply has sustained and inspired my mahi ever since. She said, ‘The staff are mostly Pākehā, and their whole, daily experience of Māori is that we are broken and hopeless, especially the kids.’ I could have fallen off my chair. How was that possible?
The last time I caught a train, I noticed the tamariki on board had their heads down. A low-energy forcefield of invisibility emanated from them. Don’t see me. Don’t notice me. Don’t assume you know me. They were closed down, falling in line with the expectations of the other passengers. To show up in life, to be present, loving, unapologetically Māori and happy is a political statement. It pokes its tongue out at the expectations of others.
When I look at our carvings from the old people, I see cheekiness, humour, rhythm, defiance, partying, loudness, matakite, cleverness, love, and abundance. They have pills nowadays to cure us from these things. I take all my mamae, anger, and disappointment, and I transform that energy to make the most faithful, funny, dynamic, musical, and modern images of us that I can, using the discarded, unwanted fabrics of society.
I was originally going to call this show In Your Face, but I settled on Hikihiki, because of what it means to wrap someone in a blanket of love. I give thanks for being Māori every day. I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world.
—Maungarongo Te Kawa
Maungarongo was recently interviewed by Jesse Mulligan on RNZ's Afternoons about his current projects, including his upcoming visit to Scandinavia supported by Objectspace. You can listen to the full interview here.