MUKA BY ASHLEIGH FATA by In*ter*is*land Collective


There are women on this side if the earth 

Standing at the edge of woven mats 

Induced with life 

Ready to give birth 

Rubbing muka on their thigh

Boiling water with their karakia 

Ko te kawa o te ao 

Standing in between the fingers of their tipuna

While the smell of harakeke burns like incense as they dig their elbows into their hip 

Softening the fibres of their backbone 

Sharing parts of their sacred selves with strangers 

Over and under

Under and over 



T a k e 



W e a v e 

Weave your story into existence e kō 

And raranga your self back to full health 


Image : ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Image : ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

T O I T Ū T E W H E N U A BY PEITA-MARIA TUNUI by In*ter*is*land Collective

Image: Peta-Maria Tunui

Image: Peta-Maria Tunui


My first whare was whenua
In the swelling haputanga of my māmā
It was whenua that nourished me
Whenua that formed jelly cells into koiwi
Mai i tōku iwi, ka puta tōku tūara, ōku waewae
Feet, fed on whenua, the warmth of whakapapa grounding me,
The blood of my tīpuna, my genealogy flowed from my māmā
To my whenua, through my pito, my manawa
Filled with 100% organic tino rangatiratanga
There is dirt in my DNA 
The double helix of aroha and wairua
spells out MANA
And I am birthed from earth, my worth is woven into the soil, here and now
Now, hear the karanga of my soul, I have not forgotten that I was formed from dust

E kore au e ngaro
He kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea

These waewae will stand, for the land, on the land, with the land, in the land
From whence I came, and one day you will understand
Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua
And your mokopuna will thank my mokopuna for making a stand
Hand in hand, with their kuia and kaumatua
Weaving a strand of preservation from the past into the future
for preserving and protecting
That which now preserves and protects them.

O Coloniser, 
You advanced before with muskets, with disease
With papal decrees, and now you advance again
brandishing the false dichotomy

Once, you pit science against sacred? I am both
Twice, you pit kaumātua against mokopuna? I am both
Three times, you pit tangata against whenua? I am both

My tīpuna navigated by math and physics
They engineered trenches and storage pits,
healed and hunted with our knowledge of biology
cooked by geology, charted new territories by astronomy,
We chant the secrets of life in the catechisms of our oratory
hypothesise about death and birth,
Record observations of our time on earth
In mōteatea and haka, we measure rhythm and memory
our tōhunga tested and reported from the laboratory
Of the natural world. We compare the changing seasons
Map the cycle of the moon and stars
Understand the reasons and how to care
For the whenua that is ours.
In karakia and taonga pūoro
We breathe this knowledge into our world
Our tīpuna knew we are star dust
Decades before what you know as science caught up.
We are still innovators, activators,
Regenerators of language, of ancient tradition
Navigators of challenge and change
Creators of our future
I am sacred, I am science
Tēnā koutou.

We are a pā harakēkē
Muka ready to be woven
Aroha received, aroha given
Te rito o te harakēkē - our pēpi
The centre surrounded and grounded 
By layer upon layer
Generation upon generation
Of love, strength, guidance and protection
hope and connection to the past and the future
So that one day te rito will be te rau
And they will know their responsibilty to their tīpuna and their uri
Ancestor and descendant
Ki mua ki muri
I cannot forget what has passed, or what is to come
I am mokopuna, I am kaumatua
Tēnā koutou

Ashes to ashes 
Dust to dust
I am tangata, I am whenua
Tēnā koutou katoa

How long will you divide and dissect us, 
Neglect our desires, deflect our wishes, infect our taonga
That is how long we will correct you

How long will you choose to abuse your power, 
Diffuse our opinions, lose our trust, bulldoze our mana
That is how long we will oppose you.

How long will you claim the upper hand on our land
The moral high ground on our ground
Make a stand where we have stood for generations

How long will you claim monopoly
On progress, knowledge and technology
TOO Long, it has been too long,
It is enough. Not one more acre

The government have forgotten 
Have chosen to forget what govern meant
Less than seven generations ago, in our nation
The desecration of our people was
Driven forward by their legislation
Condoning the rape of whenua, the murder of whanau
the passing of titles into the hands
Of those the government backed 
And now the government backs away
And wash their hands, choosing not to choose
Blind to what govern meant,
They cannot see what govern could mean today.

It cannot be a surprise
for never ever in the vast sweep of history
have the oppressed been freed from tyranny
by appealing to the moral compass
Of their oppressors,
Yes - Because power is a blinker
Privelege shutters the eyes
It lies to you and tells you that what you know and 
Only what you know is right
That how you know it
And what it means is worth a fight
That black and brown cannot produce the might and right of white
That money, and resource stripping, in plain writing
Greed, is what we mean by progress.
We cannot choose the world we are born into
But when you choose to continue to see the world this way
Your ignorance is your shame

it will become our fame
for while you dig your heels in or turn your face,
we will stay, in this place, 
We will be found on this ground
We will stand on this land

Our voices will be heard
Across the whenua
Across the oceans
Across time

And we will not be lost.

(Written by Peta-Maria Tunui, July 2019, in support and solidarity with indigenous brothers and sisters around the world protecting land & legacy. I stand with you ā wairua, and cant wait to stand with you ā tinana. Drawing inspiration from your courage and aroha.)

KŪ KI’AI MAUNA // TOITŪ TE WHENUA. Thanks to Assata Shakur for this powerful quote “nobody in the world, nobody in history has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people oppressing them”.

#standformaunakea #standforihumatao #notonemoreacre

Peta-Maria Tunui is a writer and a poet hailing from Aotearoa, if you would like to know more about her work please click here

Dance of Sina by Kim Meredith by In*ter*is*land Collective

Dance of Sina was written by Kim Meredith to celebrate her daughter Courtney’s 30th birthday. Courtney Sina Meredith is named after her maternal grandmother Rita Sina, who was herself named after her paternal grandmother Sina le Pua ( Sina the flower). 

Each woman followed a similar path, striving to break free from convention and push the boundaries. 
The poem is a chant, it calls out to Sina who continues to dance her way out through the genes, celebrating her courage and light.

TANGATA MOANA: Museé Le Quai Branley Takeover by In*ter*is*land Collective

hONgi,  Written by Jo, Performed by TANGATA MOANA 2019

hONgi, Written by Jo, Performed by TANGATA MOANA 2019

Woven together under the sacred constellation of Matariki TANGATA MOANA will take over spaces of Museé Le Quai Branley with creative responses speaking to the powerful relationship between the people, languages and ancestral belongings of Te Moananui a Kiwa (Oceania). 

TANGATA MOANA is formed by members of the In*ter*is*land Collective, SaVAge K’lub, Mana Moana | Mana Wāhine, South Auckland Poets Collective and Ngāti Ranana London Māori Club in honour of their ancestral taonga and international communities.

Contributing artists included: Charlie Panapa, Peta-Maria Tunui, Ashleigh Fata, Shakaiah Perez, Salvador Brown, Ihaka Tunui, Atarati Waretini and Te Whaimana Robinson.

TANGATA MOANA at Musee Le Quai Branley, 2019

TANGATA MOANA at Musee Le Quai Branley, 2019

Words: Jo Walsh

Images: Ariana Davis

"Local Māori urge government to address long-running dispute over rare cultural heritage landscape" by In*ter*is*land Collective


“An escalating crisis at Ihumaatao, near Auckland’s airport, is challenging the commercial development of Māori land that is part of a rare cultural heritage landscape.

Transnational corporation Fletcher Building Limited has the legal consent to build 480 dwellings on 32 hectares of land confiscated from local iwi (Māori tribe) in 1863. Mana whenua (local Māori) were shut out of the consenting processes for the development and left without any viable legal remedy.

Last week supporters of the mana whenua-led, community-supported campaign Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL) presented a near 18,000-strong petition to the New Zealand government, urging it to intervene to protect the land for future generations. SOUL wants the government to either buy the land or mandate a process that can produce an outcome all parties can live with.”

To read the rest of this article please go to:

For more information on Ihumatao please visit:

To sign the petition to help protect Ihhumatao go to:

In Detail: Words from Pelenakeke (Keke) Brown by In*ter*is*land Collective


“My art practice is grounded within the Samoan concept of the vā or 'in-between space.' Vā centers spatial relationships as a way to understand and move in the world. In my art practice, this translates to interrogating relationships, how we relate to ourselves, each other and the larger world. This can be between humans but also includes within structures of power and other ephemera. I am fascinated with the in-between space in which we spatially relate with each other and how our in-between spaces inform the way we move in the world. As an afakasi Samoan, disabled, queer artist I straddle many in-between identities which can shift and change depending in the time and space I am in. My work whether it be through hair, the medical file or technology and Samoan tatau (tattoo) is looking at the connections between the self and the outside world and the relational grounding that occurs in this in-between vā (space). My practice is multi-disciplinary and includes drawing, writing and movement.

 This year I have been selected as the curator for the Artists of Color Council Movement Research at Judson Church Spring 2019 season and I have selected Rodney Bell, Caroline Garcia and Kaina Quenga and Anthony Aiu to present work responding to the theme ‘body sovereignty.’ Body sovereignty is being in charge of how we live in relationship with our body & in charge of how our body is in relationship with the world. This curatorial work traverses borders, is across time zones & the moana to investigate the mana and relationship between all the different sovereign bodies of the curated artists involved. Sovereignty has many legal & historical connotations & is often used in reference to fanua (land) independence. It is fitting then that each of the artists, all from the Pacific will be using their voice and personal practice to explore their personal body sovereignty. With a mix of bodies including disabled and queer identified artists I wanted to include and honor all these different sovereign artists and bodies.


'Excavātion' is a personal exploration of my 145-page medical record and the previously untold stories surrounding my birth, specifically centering my mother’s experience as she navigated the medical system, as a brown, immigrant, (and for a time, undocumented) non-English speaking young woman. Through this fragmented document made up of my delivery record, patient notes, inter-departmental letters and letters to outside care providers I am investigating the medical institution and many of its shortcomings, such as racism and lack of autonomy for people of color and how this impacts our care. Medical complications, disability, and infant mortality impact significantly more women of Color than Caucasian women and I wish to use my personal story to springboard a conversation around medical racism in today’s society. 

I envision this work to be interdisciplinary, using text (both sourced directly from my file and inspired by it), visuals (created in response to the source material as well as the file itself), and movement developed in the studio using somatic techniques such as authentic movement. To develop this work, I have begun to compile a reading list of texts, art, and theory from mostly other disabled artists of color whose work also explores institutions, the body, and the disabled experience such as the artists June Jordan and Mia Mingus as well as the work of Doreen Garner whose practice references medical histories.

New work that I am exploring what does an accessible space look like to work and investigate in? I would like to work with other crips through technology to create work together. I would also like to speak with other crips about their medical file and experiences navigating the medical industry. This work would look like letters, recorded conversations, drawings created via technology and in-person meetings and even movement. What does it look like to move in the world, in our own way and navigate the system(s) that we must each operate in? What are the conversations that we have that can't have in other spaces? What does a comfortable, open space to move, look like? This work would begin as a series of provocations that I would investigate and explore during a residency period, hopefully April/May this year.”

Words: Pelenakeke (Keke) Brown

Images: From a new work-in-progress Excavātion developed while at Denniston Hill (performance residency June 2018)

For more information on Pelenakeke (Keke) Brown please click here.

Pounamu Wānanga (One Day Workshop) by In*ter*is*land Collective

Friday 24 May, 12pm - 5pm
or Sunday 26 May, 12.30pm - 5.30pm

During an oral and interactive wānanga, each participant will be shown how to tune into the pounamu they are working using traditional methods including ‘takutaku’ (ancient chant). Each participant will complete the workshop wearing their taonga pounamu, having made a connection between themselves and the stone.

In*ter*is*land Collective is pleased to announce two workshops with Te Kaha, Māori ‘Tohunga’ (knowledge keeper, craftsman and cultural practitioner), working with and learning about the sacred stone POUNAMU.

Te Kaha is of Tūhoe and Kahungunu decent. Te Kaha is a far-travelled advocate and spokesperson representing and sharing the ancient knowledge and wisdom of his ancestors. He leads with his heart and guides in the transformation and empowerment of others. He has been carving Pounamu for over 25 years and has a deep understanding of the stone which he imparts during the wānanga.

The wānanga is £150.00 per person and we will give priority to spaces for Pacific whanau, please let us know asap if you are interested. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Vanessa Robinson or Jo Walsh. To contact us please email

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Mana Moana | Mana Wahine Exhibition by In*ter*is*land Collective

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

"Koropupu te toto o te moana i ahau,

koia ko tōku oranga, tōku whare wānanga, tōku pouarahi,

ko au ko te mauri o te moana,

ko te mauri o te moana ko au”

“The blood of the ocean flows through me, my sustenance,

my nest of higher learning, my navigator.

I am the living essence of the ocean,

the living essence of the ocean is me”

The Mana Moana | Mana Wāhine exhibition is an exploration of lived realities and philosophies indigenous to Te Moana Nui A Kiwa (Oceania/Pacific), that is reflected in wāhine (feminine), as a key source of mana (power/strength).

In acknowledging Te Moana Nui A Kiwa as our oldest shared ancestor we draw a connection between the health and wellbeing of our ocean in relation to the strength and power of our women.

This articulation of wāhine (feminine) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship of natural and physical resources) opens up dialogue about the multiplicities that arise today.  We seek to widen understandings of our own cultural practices that sit outside the confines of a homogenised, singular idea of western feminism.

In*ter*is*land Collective has invited whānau (extended family) - artists, writers, academics and community members who have spent time in MOKU (London HQ) to contribute thoughts, ideas, work, performance, writing and images that will document our residency at Raven Row in celebration of Mana Moana | Mana Wāhine.


In*ter*is*land Collective is made up of artists, cultural practitioners, curators, community workers and educators from the vibrant community of Pacific Island people living in London and Europe, and those that are visiting from around the world.

Our primary aim is to establish and foster relationships between people of Te Moana Nui A Kiwa, strengthening our connections across our oceans and islands. In addition to this we produce events and secure spaces for Pacific Island arts and culture and provide space for community gatherings.

Founded by Jo Walsh, Lyall Hakaraia, Jessica Palalagi and Ahilapalapa Rands, our group of artists, curators and community organisers weave and connect to a network of creative practitioners from around the Te Moana Nui A Kiwa including but not limited to Hawaiʻi, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Fiji, Kuki Airani (Cook Islands), Rapanui (Easter Island), Tokelau, Tonga, Tahiti, Sāmoa, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Dreamtime (Australia).

Contributing Artists:

Julia Mage’au Gray, Shakaiah Perez, Salote Tawale, Te Maru o Hinemihi, Tui Emma Gillies and Sulieti Fieme’a Burrows, Andrea Low, Te Rā Ringa Raupa, Keri Mei Zagrobelna, Pelenakeke Brown, Momoe Tasker, Crystal Te Moananui-Squares, Lana Lopesi, Aata DeVera, Heneba Gutchen, Keva Rands, Jaq Brown, Miriama Grace-Smith, Vanessa Marjoribanks, Jeanine Clarkin, Te Ataraiti Waretini, Lyall Hakaraia, Ariana Davis, Peta-Maria Tunui (poetry), Ashleigh Fata (poetry) & Hanalee Lewis-Vaike (dance) and Gutts (the band).

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Mana Moana | Mana Wahine, 2019 Image: ©2018 Crystal Te Moananui Squares

Screening: Te Kuhane o te Tupuna: El Espiritu de los Ancestros by In*ter*is*land Collective

In*ter*is*land Collective is very privileged to show the film Te Kuhane o te Tupuna: El Espiritu de los Ancestos (2015) by Leonardo Pakarati.

Te Kuhane o te Tupuna: El Espiritu de los Ancestos tells the story of a grandfather and girl who journey from Rapanui (Easter Island) to London in search of their Moai ancestor, Hoa Hakananai’a (lost or stolen friend).

The film will be introduced through a short conversation with with yuin Dharawal man Rodney Kelly who has been campaigning since 2016 for the return of his ancestral artefacts, taken on the day James Cook arrived a Botany Bay in 1770.


Rodney Kelly is based in Bermagui NSW, has traveled to London six times to speak with the British Museum and the Cambridge Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, which hold, respectively the well-known Gweagal Shield, a number of spears and other artefacts.

Leonardo Pakarati runs his own production company. He founded the first local TV channel in Rapanui, becoming the director of TV & Programming, and more recently makes films and documentaries.

The screening is part of the open studio weekend at Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane, London, E1 7LS running from Saturday 4 - Sunday 5 May 2019.

Making Time with Goldwater, Wilson & Krause by In*ter*is*land Collective

Performance artists from two ends of the earth meet in Raven Row to share a performative discussion.


Helena Goldwater (London, UK)

Helena’s performances last many hours, often existing as installations, and her paintings can take months to complete – her dedication to process and duration is a way of exploring how concepts can be developed over time, transforming the everyday into an extraordinary act. Helena’s practice immerses her in relation to a space, and is concerned with what is hidden, unseen, and how it is both impacted upon and by a space, through the revelation and /or transformation of materials, using the internal body in relations to the space’s external body.

Making Time Poster - New.jpg

Leafa Wilson & Olga Krause (Aotearoa, New Zealand)

New Zealand-born Samoan multi-media performance artist Leafa Wilson/ Olga Krause is one of the first experimental performance artists of Pacific descent in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her experimentation and hybridised practice of forcing Western art to conform to her nonWestern notions of art tends to move toward a critical interpretation of Western art tropes, art musicians and codification of colours that are part of her own personal and private visual language. Her lifelong work is the performative use the name given to her by her Samoan-born parents, Olga Hedwig Janice Krause. A name she readily slips in and out of: in the ta-vā Polynesian theory of time-space, she is Leafa and Olga and Janice. Each is her and are very real. Being Olga Krause is her endurance work.

An Open Letter to Chapter 10 From Lyall Hakaraia by In*ter*is*land Collective

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This is an open letter to Chapter 10 and a request for them to change the imagery they are using to advertise their next party in April. The use of the Rapa Nui ( Easter Island ) Moai figures that have been photoshopped into Butt Plug shapes is not appropriate and talks to a lack of understanding of the cultural importance of the figures that are living ancestral treasures. The changing of the figures into these sexualised shapes speaks to a colonial misrepresentation and abuse of other people and I know that we all want to move beyond this. 

I have made this a letter open as it is good for us to talk openly about matters of race and oppression so that we all consider the sensitivity around the use of cultural imagery and especially from those cultures that we do not inhabit. Last year I stood with the people of Rapa Nui when they asked the British Museum for their stolen moai back and the outpouring of grief for their missing family member was heartbreaking. Perhaps a year ago I would not have written this letter and would not have thought twice about the imagery, but I have had the chance to grow and learn and hope that Chapter 10 is able to do the same. 

There is no malice or anger behind this request only to point out an error that can be fixed and for us to all stand in solidarity with the many diverse and extraordinary cultures that we share Papatuanuku (the earth) with. 

Magic Making 


 Lyall Hakaraia


Creative Director VFD
UK Promoter at large for Briefs Factory / 
Founding member / Inter-Island Collective / MOKU Pacific Arts HQ /

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Ori - Siva - Ura! (dance, dance, dance) by In*ter*is*land Collective

ORI SIVA URA! will actively explore dance from Te Moananui a Kiwa where with each hand gesture and movement stories unfold, holding history, genealogy, and culture.

Spaces are limited and include a learning dance class with Beats of Polynesia, poetry readings, contemporary film screenings and a small meal.
Come join us on Saturday for a warm breeze, an undulating swell and the sweet scent of frangipani.

'Dancing Girls' copyright Momoe Tasker
'Tumunu' copyright Hanalee Lewis Vaike

Weaving Workshop @ Moku HQ by In*ter*is*land Collective

weaving 5.jpg

We were very lucky to link up with the Northland weavers from Te Ra RInga Raupa, Mandy Sunlight, Ruth Port and Rouati Evans during their short stay in London. The weavers were here to research and learn from Te Ra, the only known woven maori sail still in existence; Located at the British Museums Oceania Object Stores in Shoreditch, East London.

Mandy, Ruth and Rouati were greeted at Moku HQ with a full house of wahine ready to learn basic weaving skills from them. During the weaving workshop, the roopu te wahine were encouraged to create bracelets, earring and kupenga taonga (necklaces), all varying in skill levels from simple to more complex. The afternoon was centered around whanaungatanga, sharing of stories and learning together as wahine from all around Te-Moananui-a-kiwa; as well as ideas of reclamation of traditional techniques in a modern context, sparking new ideas on cultural adornment and expression.

Words: Ariana Davis

Images: Crystal Te Moananui-Squares

Talanoa Vibes with Salote Tawale by In*ter*is*land Collective


Using the Moana process of talanoa, our group gathered to explore ideas and experiences of living in the diaspora and our relationships to our turangawaewae. Participants included Ariana Davis, Salote Tawale, Jess Palalagi, Ahilapalapa Rands, Ann-Marie Houng Lee, Ella Grace Newton. This event was support by ACME Studios & the Australian Council for the Arts.

For more info on Salote Please visit

Words & Images: Ahilapapa Rands

Images: Laura Martin


Miss Siva Samoa by Ashleigh Fata by In*ter*is*land Collective

She finds her pulse in carved out miro log
The drummer strikes
The boys slap
Skin on skin

Milli milli milli
Warms coconut oil between her fingers
Until the aroma burns like incense
Cleansing the air she is about to float on

She bows
Sii into ceremony finding the comfort of sand between her toes

Her smile is samoa
Her torso this island
Her bloodline this ocean

Daughter of a southern sun
She speaks saltwater and brown sugar

Hips protected by the lavalava of her matriarchy
She moves from her womb
Heritage tatau on the back of her coloured knees
She stands up
She stands out
In a colourblind colony
She is banana skin
And taro leaves

Missionaries documented her dance as indecent
But still wished their women would move like me
Cause while they were painting their lips red
We slapped it on our cheeks
It's a war dance out here
But we just do it with grace and beauty

The daily dance routine of a samoan woman isn't always easy
The way i undo myself
To remind myself
That I do not dance to amuse a crowd
That I do not live for a crown
That my jewels are shells
And my feathers are brown

To the sound
Of your carved out miro log
Follow the incense of coconut oil
Dance your taualuga naked in front of the mirror
Because today you are enough
Miss Siva Sāmoa

For more information of Ashleigh Fata please click here.

Three Wise Cousins by In*ter*is*land Collective

We are very excited to be showing Three Wise Cousins at our first Whanau Day, this weekend. Three Wise Cousins is about New Zealand born and raised Adam. Adam is a typical 22-year-old city kid with a killer crush on Mary (who barely knows he exists). When he overhears Mary claim that she only dates 'real' pacific island guys, Adam makes it his mission to deliver. He packs his bags and flies to Samoa to engage the services of his two cousins – both island boys to the core – to teach him all the island ways, needless to say he quickly finds himself a 'fish out of water'. Check out the trailer below for some quality whanau laughs!

Oceania As a Contact Zone, and the Myth of Museum Universalism by In*ter*is*land Collective

Tooi [Tuai], Drawing of Korokoro's moko, 1818. Paper, 30 x 50 cm. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, GNZMMS-147

Tooi [Tuai], Drawing of Korokoro's moko, 1818. Paper, 30 x 50 cm. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, GNZMMS-147


As the Oceania exhibition closes at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Matariki Williams looks at its time there, and forward to its next site at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris.

Across the seas, far inland, in a river, a white whale appeared. The appearance in the River Thames of the beluga, more commonly found in waters further north, coincided with the cultural blessings held for the opening of Oceaniaan exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) in London. Its presence was immediately taken as a tohu, a good one, for the future of the exhibition. I attended the opening of the exhibition and a number of events in its first week, all of which elicited multiple reactions. At times I was overcome by the privilege it was to view taonga that have been away from our whenua for decades, centuries. Other times, I was enraged at the injustice of what has happened to our people in the intervening years since these taonga were taken from our shores. It was such a lot to absorb that in the three times I visited I was unable to consider the breadth of the islands and peoples involved. Focusing predominantly on the Māori content was enough – it was too much.

As a continent, Oceania is measureless. Distilling its cumulative histories into an exhibition of around 200 taonga at an institution in the antipodes – that is, New Zealand’s antipodes – is a momentous task. The exhibition itself is taking place in the sestercentennial year for the RA, a commemoration that also marks the 250-year anniversary of Captain James Cook’s first Pacific voyage. That week in London has remained with me, and I see with the distance of a few weeks, and half the world, what Oceania is a platform for: it is a contact zone for the peoples of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, our taonga, our history, our future.

Within the field of museology, the proposition of a museum being a “contact zone” has been contested ever since James Clifford first published the provocation in his 1997 book Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. In the chapter ‘Museums as Contact Zones,’ Clifford transplants a term coined by Mary Louise Pratt, that of the “contact zone,” into a museum setting. Pratt herself defined the contact zone as,

“… the space of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict.”

Riffing on this, Clifford posited that museums – a museum being broadly defined as a collecting institution – become the site of contact between two distinct peoples: those of the museum, and those whose culture and history is represented in the museum’s collection.

An enduring critique of his thesis stems from the power inequity between the two groups involved, and the assumption that source communities, the peoples from which taonga in museum collections are sourced, are willing consultants for the museum’s edification. Clifford suggests that a reciprocal exchange takes place between the people of the museum and the people of the taonga, though he remains mindful that this reciprocity is unequal, and that much of what is given by the people of the taonga is not for the people of the museum: their songs and words are for the taonga. Twenty-one years after the publication of Routes, museum workforces are comparatively more diverse than in 1997, with people from source communities working within these institutions. In Aotearoa, tikanga Māori has had a marked influence on museum practice, with the observation of cultural blessings at openings and closings, inclusion of water in sites that deal with tapu, pōwhiri and whakatau to welcome new staff or visitors to the institution as just a few examples. In this sense, Māori can be seen as active participants inside the contact zone, with the existing inequity calibrated by our self-determination in how we are interpreted and how our taonga are handled. As a disclaimer though, because our experiences are not universal, I’m talking merely about some Māori in some institutions. Much of this change was precipitated by the watershed moment of the Te Māori exhibition that toured the United States in the 1980s. The expressions of tikanga that took place at that time have been taken up and carried forward by many subsequent kaimahi Māori who continue to work in the sector: nonetheless, we must never become complacent about continuing to hold that presence and push for more.

In this sense, Māori can be seen as active participants inside the contact zone, with the existing inequity calibrated by our self-determination in how we are interpreted and how our taonga are handled.

Returning to Clifford, to illuminate his argument he provides multiple examples of exhibitions from the United Kingdom and United States including, rather coincidentally, the RA’s 1995 exhibition Africa: The Art of a Continent, which at the time was the largest and most expensive exhibition in RA history. Synchronicities can be drawn between this survey show of a vast geography, and the more recent example of Oceania, including Elaine Mitchell Attias’ questioning of the Africa exhibition in the Los Angeles Times, where she asked “How did it come about that Britain, a nation that zealously prizes its own culture, that has a bitter colonial history and a crop of current racial problems, should shine such a spotlight on African art?” Twenty-three years later I could swap out ‘African’ for ‘Oceanian.’ Considering the interpretation of a particular taonga Māori on display, a pounamu hei tiki collected in 1773-74 by Johann Reinhold Forster during Cook’s second Pacific Voyage, the object label mentions precisely that it was collected. Nothing is mentioned of who it may have been collected from, though the dates and geography cited (Cape Terawhiti) provide clues to narrow it down. This is as good an example as any to address the “bitter colonial history” that Britain brought to Te Moananui-a-Kiwa.

Africa: The Art of a Continent was part of a UK-wide festival, Africa ’95, throughout which it was reported that African artists and curators were provided agency by their very involvement, though the criticism remained that, as Attias wrote, “Africans would be involved in every phase of Africa ‘95, but its initiators were for the most part European whites.” To layer that context upon Oceania, a recent public programme at the RA, titled ‘Repatriation within the arts: The return of artworks and cultural objects,’was heavily criticised by Māori and Pacific attendees on Twitter and can be searched under #RAOceania. The source of much of the criticism is that, despite this event being part of the Oceania events programme, of the four people involved in the panel, none had whakapapa to the islands of Te Moananui-a-Kiwa. Given the summative power of there being so many Māori and Pacific people in the UK as part of the exhibition, this is an oversight that should not have happened.

The lack of representation on the panel feels particularly insensitive in light of Rapa Nui’s recent requests for the return of their moai, Hoa Hakananai'a, which has been in British hands for over 150 years. The Rapa Nui community, Ma’u Henua, have recently proposed to carve a replica from basalt using traditional tools, and offer it to Queen Elizabeth II in exchange for Hoa Hakananai’a. More recent, of course, has been the visit by a delegation from Rapa Nui, led by governor Tarita Alarcón Rapu who visited the British Museum and told them: “We are just a body. You, the British people, have our soul.” This request comes at what could be seen as a time of great reclamation for Rapa Nui. In 2017, the Chilean government returned the Rapa Nui National Park, including the moai within, to Ma’u Henua who will administer and care for the land and the moai. Earlier this year, New Zealand undertook only its fourth-ever repatriation of human remains to another country when two skulls were returned to Rapa Nui from the Canterbury and Otago Museums, in conjunction with Te Papa and the New Zealand and Chilean governments. This process began in 2014 when the Rapa Nui Ka Haka Hoki Mai Te Mana Tupuna Repatriation Program first made their request to Canterbury Museum. Upon hearing about the request, Otago Museum researched their collections, found that they too had human remains from Rapa Nui, and duly responded.

Upon hearing about the request, Otago Museum researched their collections, found that they too had human remains from Rapa Nui, and duly responded.

I heard about this repatriation from iwi members of Ngāi Tūāhuriri, who hosted the Rapa Nui roopu at their marae at Tuahiwi. Even then, four months after the repatriation, I recall Corban Te Aika and Puamiria Parata-Goodall filled with an overwhelming awe at the event. Through this repatriation, the immediate power of taonga to connect peoples was apparent, and beyond that, the power to remediate past practices is evident. Museums have the opportunity to be active in cultural redress, to atone for past practices that we would no longer dream of replicating. There is a clear history of repatriation and examples of how to do so, including the aforementioned. So, what is the hesitation? This is but one of many complex questions that Oceania threw up. In particular, questions of repatriation came up more than once and, while on a panel at the Oceania symposium, I was asked directly if I thought the exhibition would spark calls for repatriation. This is a deceptively simple question and is deserving of its own article to answer it; for insight into the repatriation work that is undertaken in Aotearoa for human remains, much of which is analogous to non-human remains, I’d suggest reading Dr Amber Aranui’s recent article, ‘Toi moko in Toi Art.’

Returning to the RA events programme, and comparing it to Africa ’95, there was scope here to create connections between the many discrete Oceania-themed events that have been happening in the UK recently. Front of mind is the refresh of the Pacific Encounters gallery at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and their work with the SaVAge K’lub on the project Captain Cook Was a Pirate. As part of this project, a Gilbert and Sullivan-esque song, “Tupaia’s Helm,” was written by tenor Sani Muliaumaseali’i. This song was later performed on Michael Parekowhai’s piano sculpture He Kōrero Pūrākau mō te Awanui o te Motu (2011) at the RA by Muliaumaseali’i, accompanied by James Loelu, and can be viewed from 31 minutes here. This is an excellent example of an artistic response to the exhibitions, and also of the Maritime Museum’s openness, as I have interpreted it as an outsider, to bring source communities in to inform and shape their work. It is an exemplar of that collaboration then being able to be experienced beyond its first encounter, and to traverse the walls of the galleries and voyage around the world.

Tene Waitere, Tā Moko panel, 1896-99. Te Papa (ME004211) © Image courtesy of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Tene Waitere, Tā Moko panel, 1896-99. Te Papa (ME004211) © Image courtesy of The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Related to these repatriation questions were suggestions that the RA was able to depict Oceania in a way that could not be replicated in an ethnographic setting. These comments were specifically about the inclusion of contemporary art alongside taonga tūturu, and people speculating whether or not a similar kind of exhibition could be shown in an ethnographic museum. This sentiment echoes those of Tom Phillips, Curator of the Africa exhibition, who stated at the time,

“We are not an ethnographic institution and this isn't like the old ethnographic displays. It's not so much a sophisticated show of naive objects as a naive show of sophisticated objects. I think the critics have been more open to this show, perhaps because they're coming to it without the ethnographic baggage.”

This was a particularly pertinent question to encounter given the second site for the exhibition, the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac. The quai Branly is the modern-day expression of a collecting institution that has taken on many guises, and names, in its 200-year history, but can be described simply as an ethnographic museum. A quick perusal of its collection brings up over 300 Māori-related objects, of their over 6000 ‘Oceanique’ taonga, few of which I could find any helpful information about.

As has happened multiple times as I’ve been writing this, there have been notable shifts in the European museum sector, including, most recently, the release of the Restitution Report. Commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron, the report was undertaken by Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and French historian Bénédicte Savoy, and led to the immediate return of 26 Benin bronzes. However, the report was also met with rebuke from none other than the President of the Musée du quai Branly, Stephane Martin, who stated that the report "… puts historical reparations over the contribution museums make." Martin’s reaction was not the only of its kind, as other museum directors from around Europe shared similar assertions that museums continue to make great contributions to societies, including Nicholas Thomas, Director, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, and co-curator of the Oceania exhibition. Many of the arguments against the report’s recommendations trouble my understanding of partnership and collaboration, in that they feel primarily sceptical that due process has been undertaken, they automatically assume that it hasn’t. The discussion takes me back to the “contact zone”: if museums are sites of contact, then both sides need to be listening. Restitution requires museums to listen to source communities and ask what it is that they need, and then co-create based on those needs. The responses from the museum directors profiled reveal a preference to maintain control over the way source communities are engaged with; their proclamations declaring that they are ‘global projects’ while never articulating what that means, or being transparent about their power in controlling the global narrative.

The responses ... reveal a preference to maintain control over the way source communities are engaged with; their proclamations declaring that they are ‘global projects’ while never articulating what that means, or being transparent about their power in controlling the global narrative.

Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, states, “I continue to believe in the merits of free, open museums able to range widely and share the global story of human ingenuity and creativity.” The application of ‘free’ here is debateable, as is a European museum’s claim to be able to share its work widely given how far-flung many of its source communities are. As for the claims to a ‘global story’? Indigenous, marginalised, minority academics know how damaging grand narratives can be, that they tend to ignore the histories of underrepresented peoples. In a world where source communities are authors of their own histories, how relevant can a global story really be? Yet, the assertion remains, as France’s former culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon also doubles down on this call that a “universal discourse” be led by museums.

Lisa Reihana, In Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015-2017 (detail). Single-channel video, HD, colour, 7.1 sound. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2014 © Image courtesy of the artist and ARTPROJECTS

Lisa Reihana, In Pursuit of Venus [infected], 2015-2017 (detail). Single-channel video, HD, colour, 7.1 sound. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Patrons of the Auckland Art Gallery, 2014 © Image courtesy of the artist and ARTPROJECTS

There is so much more that could be said about this exhibition and its surrounding events, but in fact, what is said will always be insufficient. Source communities are speaking our pains into a deficit space, a space that has been complicit in colonisations in recent history – would wholesale repatriation ever undo that? Would co-curating an exhibition ever be able to convey the richness of our cultures to others? Does having agency within these “contact zones” ever really alleviate the knowledge that our taonga are in unnatural spaces? Oceania isn’t responsible for bringing all of these discussions to the fore; it shouldn’t have to have all the answers but it should be aware that the lights of the Pacific are shining on it, we’re watching, we’re waiting, and that will never end.

As for Benny the beluga, people on Twitter reassure me that he is alive and thriving.

Read more from Matariki Williams here: