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Regional Art Stories Desna Whaanga-Schollum

in conversation with Cristian Tablazon for Regional Assembly

Ngāti Kahungunu, Rongomaiwahine, Pahauwera. Ngāi Tahu Matawhaiti.

“I have a problem with the concept of ‘artist’ - because art galleries and the Western canon of arts practice don't really resonate with me, though I love to create. The more that I speak to our [Māori] weavers and our people that are at home [haukainga] about their own practices, I realize that Mātauranga Māori, our knowledge system and our concepts of art — are embodied knowledge… connecting with the values of plants, ancestral knowledge, and encompassing things like food systems. It [Mātauranga] shows you ways to be able to understand the patterns within the environment. So I find the term 𝘢𝘳𝘵 to often be very abstracted.

“Mātauranga Māori is all about connections to Place, responsibility to Place, and protocols around Place… connections, being able to see the patterns and the networks through time, through people, through energy, and primarily through planet. It's not knowledge that is abstracted from Place.

All of my work is about our genealogy and origin, place and the environment. I understand that my practice needs to be able to give [koha], that I work in a cycle with my community, with my Place, so that there's mutual respect, reciprocity and integrity in the work that I do. My work is interrogating the way that Colonialism has built the reality that we sit with on a day-to-day basis.

“It's part of the Colonial agenda that if you're kept in a survival mode, if you're working so hard to just keep some food on the table for your kids or keep a roof over their heads, then you do not have any time to be able to think of any of that bigger picture. When somebody's in that kind of position, they're reactive, and they can't think more deeply. So in terms of our community, that is the point of the social and cultural justice side of things. Can we change the system enough so that less people are having to exist in that survival mode?

“The limitations that we have around us are set up by Capitalism, its concepts of growth and productivity. That's not only restrained to creative practices—that's our reality in terms of the way that trading systems are set up, all the way that our country's legislation understands how we occupy place…. Because of that push for productivity, which often means pumping out a whole lot of stuff really, really quickly without really thinking about - why, or for who, or how - the measurements around that tend to be about quantity, not quality, which moves it away from emotional and cultural intelligence….

It's problematic also in terms of its temporality because that traps you in a really short-term reactive mode a lot of the time. If you sit within that kind of temporality, that means you're not answerable to your ancestors and you're not answerable to the generations that are coming after you. If you can't see those longer lines of responsibility to Place and to people, and to ancestors and future generations, your future tīpuna, then that weakens your position to be able to contribute things with meaning. To be able to think really deeply. To be able to position yourself within that landscape of practice, and think about how it is that what you're doing builds upon those that have been before you, what they've been attempting to achieve, and how your actions will leave a legacy for your future generations.

If there was a way that we could start to change our concept of ecosystems, and therefore, time-based practices, the pace that we have to do things, why we're doing things, I think that might be quite a good idea."

Desna Whaanga-Schollum

Desna Whaanga Schollum 2022