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Regional Art Stories Katie Breckon

in conversation with Cristian Tablazon for Regional Assembly

“I'm really careful to know who the traditional owners are for the places that I'm recording. I'm drawing places along the road that I've travelled past, but it's not my right to just sort of take the imagery. So for me, it's about relationships: who are the people connected to those places? When I started working at the art centre, I felt it was really important to discern what was mine to glean and what was not mine to glean. Working with Worrorra, Ngarinyin, and Wunumbal peoples, I was listening to them tell their stories, I was accompanying them to their cultural sites to record for their archive, and I felt it was really important to discern that these stories were not mine to glean from. So in a way, I drew a line in the sand, which helped me to understand, when I would go home and put my artist hat back on, that those were things that I shouldn't be touching, that those stories didn't belong to me.

Working at the art centre encouraged me to consider my own personal story and why I'm here and the work that I'm making, and to value my own story. And that spurred a whole body of work looking at my family's colonial history in the South Island of New Zealand. We're looking at the destruction of wetlands in an area south of Dunedin where my family had settled in the mid-1800s. Working at the art centre and developing a deeper understanding about story ownership and identifying my own colonial stories —it's all sort of tied up with taking responsibility. I think, on that first bush trip when I really felt my whiteness, I understood that it doesn't really matter if people know me—my skin colour stands for something much larger than myself, and I have to take responsibility for that. And I think that was a really important learning curve.

What drew me to reconsider my place in Dunedin was working with so many people in the Kimberley who had a strong understanding of their connection to place. I guess that got me thinking, "Where do I belong and where am I connected?" And if I was to pinpoint a place that felt like the oldest connection our family has with Aotearoa, it's the Taiari Plain, and I think there is something there even though it does come with trauma to the landscape and this agricultural past that inflicted harm on the land. It's still history, and I think positive things can come out of facing that truth and building positive relationships. These harmful things have been done, but you can own that story and lean into that discomfort, and perhaps we're going to learn something and actually grow and instil in the next generation truth that they can move forward with.”

- Katie Breckon

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