Settler Dread and Indigeneity: Digital Media Arts in Oceania

Symposium:


Session Title:

  • Eastern-Western Interaction in Digital Media

Presentation Title:

  • Settler Dread and Indigeneity: Digital Media Arts in Oceania

Presenter(s):



Abstract:

  • Shown initially in somewhat reduced form at Te Manawa Museums Trust in Palmerston North, Aotearoa New Zealand, in 2006-7 and later at the 2007 Venice Bienale, Rachel Rakena and Brett Graham’s video sculpture Aniwaniwa is built from fi breglass moulds, set with traditionally-derived carved motifs appropriate to treasure boxes, suspended from the ceiling. Placed in each treasure box is an acrylic dome screen showing projected elements from a bank of video recordings, for the most part shot underwater with performers in traditional dress. Both artists are Maori. Brett Graham’s iwi, Ngati Koroki Kahukura, live around the town of Horahora, where his grandfather was an electrical engineer based at the town’s hydro generating station which supplied power for the gold mines at Waihi.

    Horahora — ‘spreading’ — was named for the Tainui ancestor, Turongo, and his wife, Mahinarangi, who stopped there to spread the baby garments of their newly born son, Raukawa (founder of Ngati Raukawa), out to dry. Among the source materials are photos of Graham’s family as children at the power station. This ancestral and childhood home was flooded in 1947 to provide hydro power for the new generating station at Karapiro. Because hydro plants were still rare in the Aotearoa of the 1940s, the Horahora plant was still supplying power to the grid as the waters poured in to form the new lake.

    As a last memento, Graham’s grandfather left a motto on the dynamo cover: “Kia Kaha ake ake”, “be forever strong”. Local legend had it that the turbines refused to die, even when they were inundated. In an e-mail on 2nd October 2006, Graham notes of the loss of sacred historical sites in the flooding. “I had expected to be moved by this. I had not anticipated being moved by the fact that our people had mourned the loss of the power station and the community it had created.”

    Across the motifs engaged in the work, images of water and domesticity predominate; across them the intensity of the local experience is set in communication with traditions, notably the role of Tangaroa, water and sea, who is also the messenger and Tangaroa Piri Whare, who brings the news from shore to shore. The video element, like much of the carved work, speaks of riverbanks, and in some imagery of the foreshore, subjects of extremely contemporary relevance to the political landscape of Maori-Pakeha relations and beyond them the conception of radio frequencies as taonga, traditional treasures like rivers and seas. In these relations of indigenous people to submersion we should read too not only the metaphor of drowned memories but the actuality of global warming and its specific threat to the Polynesian islanders of the Pacific.

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