Changing the Game and Junior Seau

I have been so moved by the story and tragic death of Junior Seau. My sports obsessed partner has told me at length about the important pathway Junior created for other Pacific Islanders to play professional football at the highest level. He said Junior was a game changer. I’m not generally interested in sports, but I am interested in Pacific people and leadership, Pacific achievement, diaspora and struggle. I watch the YouTube tributes to Junior with a very heavy heart.

I love this version of George “Fiji” Veikoso’s Sweet Darling dedicated to Junior Seau.

#TeamPoly in solidarity.

HUMP DAY ART TALKS: The Art Game

Speaking at the exciting dialogue event, HUMP DAY ART TALKS in South Auckland this week, I decided to write a presentation based on a song I love called Ten Crack Commandments by Notorious B.I.G, who would have turned 40 this week. HUMP DAY ARTS TALKS was presented by MIT Faculty of Creative Arts with special support from Ngati Arty, the Maori and Pacific student association. Thank you for the opportunity!

I also had to speak before John Tui, the Tongan actor from South Auckland who has just starred in the Hollywood blockbuster, Battleship alongside Rihanna!


WARNING: THIS PAPER CONTAINS OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE.

[Intro music: Ten Crack Commandments by The Notorious B.I.G]

I fell in love with hip hop when it felt like an angry but empowered voice coming from young black men and women, living through hardship and inequality inextricably related to their histories as oppressed, enslaved, displaced people.

Hip hop has evolved and stratified beyond recognition in many cases. Mainstream hip hop today, which has merged and morphed in the centre of popular culture, is something I am not in love with. Over the past few years, witnessing the change and my love dissipate, I’ve become nostalgic for the hip hop era which feels real to me.

To cut a long story short, I’m going to give you my Ten Crack Commandments, based on, inspired by and loosely interpreted through this song.

I love the Notorious B.I.G but we have differences. Firstly, I am not homophobic and in fact have zero tolerance for homophobia in any part of my life. Secondly, I have never and do not currently sell crack.

However, I am not without my faults. I have been known to be a little bit racist, and I am also known in some circles as Pimpi, reflective of the way in which I represent, advocate and endorse artists in the visual arts industry here in Aotearoa.

To introduce the Commandments, Biggies says:

I been in this game for years, it made me an animal
Its rules to this shit, I wrote me a manual
A step by step booklet for you to get
Your game on track, not your wig pushed back

Like Biggie, I’ve been involved with art for years. It was the only thing I excelled in at school, and eventually, I made it to University. I’ve been studying, living and working Pacific art here in South Auckland for the past 10 years.

I’ve made mistakes: trusted the wrong people, been indulgent with… everything, been hospitalised, traumatised, I’ve stabbed backs and been backstabbed, had fights, caused fights, broken hearts, blown budgets, thrown shit, written shit, fallen over but gotten back up. Every time.

My manual is about what I’ve learnt from making mistakes and watching other people make mistakes around me.

Rule nombre uno: Never let no one know,
How much dough you hold, cause you know
The cheddar breed jealousy ‘specially
If that man fuck up, got your ass stuck up

I interpret this in two ways, the first being – never put all your cards on the table at once. Leave people guessing, to some extent – leave them anticipating your next move. Whether this is in terms of networking or arts practice, you want to sustain relationships in this game, so you need to be memorable and be someone who people want to see more of, hear more about… get to know.

Secondly, people with good ideas attract all sorts – some want to help you, some want to drain you. Be careful who you discuss your ideas with – remember when it’s just an idea, anyone can take it and make it their own. Just be careful who you trust.

Number two: Never let em know your next move
Don’t you know Bad Boys move in silence or violence
Take it from Your Highness (uh-huh)
I done squeezed mad clips at these cats for they bricks and chips

When Biggie says Bad Boys, I think of agents of colonial infrastructure maintaining power and control over indigenous people and minority communities. Institutional racism is rife in New Zealand – it is so ingrained that it is silent and so harmful that it is violent, even more so under National Party leadership.

I have never killed for my cause, but I take great pleasure in intellectually knee-capping bureaucrats around board tables in the ivory towers of both local and central government.

Number three: never trust no-bo-dy
Your moms’ll set that ass up, properly gassed up
Hoodie to mask up, shit, for that fast buck
she be layin in the bushes to light that ass up

Whilst my mum is my biggest fan, this one is about trust.

On a positive note, you only need to be burnt once, maybe twice to really think hard about who you trust.

Everyone has their own agenda and it’s a dog eat dog world. Even in the arts.

Number four: know you heard this before
Never get high, on your own supply


One of my personal learnings is to not try and wear two hats at the same time. It’s hard to be a curator and be an artist in your own show. As it would be hard to produce and direct or star in dance, theatre or film. It’s best to focus on doing one thing well, and surrounding yourself with good people who can be trusted to do the work that needs to be done to your standards.

Number five: never sell no crack where you rest at
I don’t care if they want a ounce, tell em bounce

This is a personal one, concerned with work-life balance. Art can be all consuming – sometimes you might realise that you go to school with the same people your making work with, who are the same people you drink with, and sometimes the same people you fight with and sometimes sleep with. Great projects can come from this kind of commitment, but from my experience, it’s good to spend some time outside of this world. Thinking differently, relating to people differently… seeing differently. I think it’s healthy to have boundaries of where art stops and the rest of your life can breathe.

Number six: that god damn credit, dead it
You think a crackhead payin you back, shit forget it

Don’t do shit for people who aren’t going to reciprocate. Sometimes reciprocation is just an acknowledgement, a genuine gesture of thanks and appreciation. Sometimes it could have more value – professionally or financially.

Don’t get used, your creative services and skills have value especially once you are trained, disciplined and qualified. If you’re unsure about your value or the value of things you’re doing for other people, talk to artists who have been around for longer.

Seven: this rule is so underrated
Keep your family and business completely seperated

Money and blood don’t mix like two dicks and no bitch
Find yourself in serious shit

Minus the homophobia, I like to extend this rule from family to famz. I don’t have any direct family here in New Zealand, so my close friends are famz to me – they have my back, support me, encourage me, cry with me and pick me up from prison / hospital / court whatever. I love them. Thing is, I have a condition that I love to help people out and will invest myself fully in this task.  And this doesn’t work well with art projects. Friendships and relationships in general are affected when expectations and reality drift too far apart and two parties are not on the same page.

For me, money and blood don’t mix like the National Party and Good Leadership.

This rule also applies to nepotism. When you’ve been burnt by two people who are genetically or emotionally loyal to each other over you or a project, you grow weary of working with siblings or husbands and wives. Bottom line, relationships in a project should be clear and free from personal baggage, as much as possible.

Number eight: never keep no weight on you
Them cats that squeeze your guns can hold jobs too

Keep your practice clean and transparent. The arts industry in Aotearoa is small and bad reputations, shady practices, debt and dishonesty are like bad smells that follow you around. For middle men like me, working as a curator and advisor on decisions about who gets opportunities and funding, it’s important that what is known about you online and off, is not going to compromise where you want to go in this industry. For people like me, it is my business to know about artists – I talk, investigate, enquire, google, tweet – and I call on other people like me who expand the knowledge catching net even further.

Number nine shoulda been number one to me
If you ain’t gettin bags stay the fuck from police (uh-huh)
If niggaz think you snitchin ain’t tryin listen
They be sittin in your kitchen, waitin to start hittin

So… sometimes the relationship between crack and professional practice in the art world gets a little thin! Not snitching, staying away from Police… well, you should just try and do these things in life in general!

Number ten: a strong word called consignment
Strictly for live men, not for freshmen
If you ain’t got the clientele say hell no
Cause they gon want they money rain sleet hail snow

If someone asks you to do something, be realistic – you have to learn from projects truly going pear shaped for this one to be really  real, but if I can just drop any words of wisdom, I would just say think within your means.

You can rely on funding when you have a solid project and you’re backed up by people in the know, with standing in the community, but if funding is a blind shot – be realistic. Don’t commit and get commitment on a project that will cause serious problems if it goes ahead without the funding.

Or worse still, if you get funding and the project doesn’t happen and the money gets spent in other ways, your reputation can get discredited. If you don’t repay money to lenders or funders, you can get dragged through Baycorp or Court… you don’t want that.

Thanks for listening.

An opportunity to make Pasifika people VISIBLE in Auckland

ADVANCE PASIFIKA – MARCH FOR OUR FUTURE!

Saturday 16th June 2012 – 9.00am start at Albert Park, Auckland City

Advance Pasifika is a deliberate movement of Pasifika communities in Auckland signifying our collective voice. We know through painful experience that a fair and equal New Zealand society is never voluntarily granted. It must be demanded. Today we demand equity.

Our future is at risk. The education system is failing our young people; our health is deteriorating; our people are being locked out of affordable housing; mothers and fathers are dying alone; our incomes are disproportionately lower; our communities are being fragmented and our ideas ignored.

It is time for change. It is time for action.

Conversations about life and death

As I try to prepare something of a final speech to deliver at my last opening at Fresh Gallery Otara next week, I’ve been reflecting on the people who have been influential and significant in my curatorial practice and life in general since the Gallery opened in 2006.

This is a piece of writing about Leilani Kake that didn’t quite work out for its intended destination.  I have a conflict of interest with Leilani because I suspect she is my muse, and I will always sound ‘advocatey’ for her, because I am in fact, her biggest fan!

Leilani Kake is an artist who hasn’t been around for a long time, but she knows where she stands. Her work is informed by a distinct and intimate relationship with her past and her role as a caretaker for the future. She is grounded, firmly and profoundly. A heightened sense of self and place is perhaps a result of her bicultural heritage: Kake is of both indigenous New Zealand Māori and Cook Islands Māori descent. Whilst culturally connected, colonisation and displacement has evolved the relationship. As a resident of New Zealand, Kake straddles two worlds; that of being indigenous or tangata whenua, and also classed as a Pacific Islander, the community of Pacific Island people living in diaspora, once migrant and now predominantly New Zealand-born.

Kake’s experience is even broader still; born in Rotorua and raised in Papua New Guinea, Australia and South Auckland, she has long understood the ways in which the world defines her. Her identity and the shared experiences of people and practices that emphasise connectedness are a running theme in her work. Her family is a primary source of inspiration, and working in the relatively non-commercial medium of video installation, Kake’s family and extended community are a significant core audience for her work.

As inspiration and audience, Kake’s family are often performers and subjects in the artist’s emotionally charged video installations. In Talking Tivaevae (2005), Kake’s in-laws performed and participated in the making of the work, the video component as well as the hand-made Cook Island quilt or tivaevae. Ariki (2007) was the first work of series documenting the development and influences affecting her son, Andre’s life. In 2008, Kake moved from a staged performance based approach to real-life documentary style with her three-channel video installation, Tino Rangatira Tanga, a moving tribute to her late father, Richard Kake.

Since 2007, Kake has premiered her new works at Fresh Gallery Otara, a community gallery in her local suburb of Otara, South Auckland. In every case, the works have gone on to be shown nationally and internationally, but it is her core audience who she gives priority to. Like many Pacific artists who draw inspiration from their communities, Kake places a Pacific Island audience in high regard in terms of presenting new work.  Fresh Gallery Otara’s predominantly Pacific Island and youthful audience exposes artists to opinions and feedback based less on academic paradigms and more on cultural symbolism and meaning, feeling and relativity to popular culture and lived experience from the position of South Aucklandat the centre.

Kake has always thrived on this feedback and audiences have always responded to her work in significant ways. Her 2007 and 2008 works, Ariki and Tino Rangatira Tanga, about her then 5-year old son and the impending separation of his parents, and the life and death of her late father, have moved many viewers to tears. Kake’s 2011 work, Ngā Hau E Whā – The Four Winds, inspired high levels of awareness of the disproportionate statistics of Māori and Pacific Island women and cervical and breast cancer related fatality.

Whilst Kake’s work is at home in South Auckland, it loses nothing when exported. Curators have been drawn to the insight and intimacy her work offers. With work being shown in Taiwan, San Francisco, Paris and Hawai’i, Kake’s connectedness, familial relationships and conversations about life and death, transcend cultural contexts.

In 2012, Kake juggles teaching, post-graduate studies and preparation for a significant new work that documents her son’s traditional Cook Island hair-cutting ceremony. The artist’s 2007 work, Ariki, has also been re-made for a showing at Auckland Art Gallery in July.

Hair, Summit, May…

No time to blog, write, think… the time leading up to the Pacific Arts Summit is always crazy.
And producing the Summit this year with zero Marketing support has been very FML-frustrating.

My final show at Fresh Gallery Otara opens to the public on Friday 11 May – I can’t wait.

A component of this project is The Polyfest Hair Project, a photographic series shot by Vinesh Kumaran at the ASB Polyfest last month. The photos are on the Pacific Arts Summit Facebook and generating some good attention. Check them out here.

Summit programmes are at Art Centres and Libraries in South Auckland. If you’re outside of South AKL, check out the Pacific Arts Summit blog for details: 2012PacificArtsSummit.wordpress.com

Water and Politics

I try to swim at least four times a week. My local recreation centre has a reliably cold outdoor pool and in South Auckland, we have been fortunate to have free access to swimming pools. I swim as the sun is setting, I like the light, and the quiet; I often have the pool to myself.

After I’ve warmed up, and my body stops struggling against the cold, I start to observe my own silence. Being in between the water and the sky, I’m aware and alert. I hear differently, and smell differently, and think deeply.

Today, the singing from a church group at Otara Music Arts Centre across the road was vigorous. Perhaps a significantly large congregation, or a special occasion – the doors must have been wide open. I could hear individual voices, I could hear their faith.

Last week I could smell an umu. I was interviewed for an article a few years ago and spoke about one of the things I love about Otara being the haze of umu smoke on Christmas day. I think I was probably exaggerating, but the smell of umu or lovo, is happiness – memories of family, celebrations, love, land, home – and all from a smell.

I resigned two weeks ago from my job of more than six years. I’ve worked in the ‘change environment’ for almost half of that time. Considering my future and contemplating my own ‘change environment’ has effected my outlook in a big way. At times, everything is different – how I walk in different spaces, my language… my perspective. I’m emotional, and final. I see clearer, but also feel like I’m seeing things for the first time.

With news of a New Zealand local government reform, that will certainly affect the services I benefit from as a ratepayer in South Auckland, and my own professional change environment, it’s the moments in the pool – where I swim for free, every second day – that I reflect on what feels like the end of a golden era.

Sadly, with leaders like this, informing change that will inevitably disenfranchise some of the country’s most vulnerable sectors, migration has never looked so appealing.

 

The 3rd South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit (4-31 May)

I’m excited to be overseeing the third South Auckland Pacific Arts Summit in May, the last project I’ll be involved in before leaving my role. The poster design process has been another thoroughly inspiring creative collaboration with Edgar Melitao at The Kitchen Media.

The Pacific Arts Summit poster brochure will be out by the end of March at Arts facilities around the Auckland region. The Summit is delivered from 4-31 May in the South Auckland suburbs of Mangere, Manukau, Otara and Papakura.