Boat on the Horizon
Te mātauranga ō te Pākehā is crafty. The knowledge of the Pākehā moves like a vessel built to keep the land and the sea out.
This artwork by Peter Simpson borrows from the waiata (song) by kaititotito (composer) and kaiako (teacher), Tuini Moetū Haangū Ngāwai of Ngāti Porou. In this waiata, Ngāwai helps us see that the visual language of te mātauranga ō te Pākehā is all around us in New Zealand. It is everywhere, in the fertiliser, the architecture, and the language. It moves over everything. It contains what it sees. It moves as a vessel, plotted on a course, navigating over people and things. Simpson’s work is an image-making at this encounter that is not the Pākehā view through a Victorian watercolour, or a modern landscape with a mysterious unknown. It is not a view that claims authenticity. Instead it works to make images of this ongoing encounter, trying to see the shifting grounds that this vessel is anchored to.
Waka (canoe) can act as metaphor for collective journeys. The waka is different to the ship in Simpson’s work. The ship here is an image-making machine. To start to understand how power uses images, we need to understand how cultural practices, governments, and memory sustain te mātauranga ō te Pākehā. We also need to understand that this structure is an extension of colonial thought, and that it seeks to “establish a visual language with which to augment the effect of their [its] violence”.1 A significant part of this violence is directed against wā (time) through the imposition of ‘History’ in place of whakapapa (genealogy, lay flat, build a foundation).2
In trying to understand how this violence works, I want to think with what Stuart Hall would call the “conditions of existence” of te mātauranga ō te Pākehā.3 Hall uses this phrase when thinking about the way museums structure knowledge. This structure directs the ship in Simpson’s artwork. Ngāwai’s waiata helps us understand how these structures work to fix things that the ship passes, like positions of longitude and latitude.4 The conditions of existence for the cargo of this vessel work against an anoriginary, unfixed, anarchic and eloquent truth that in New Zealand is te Ao Māori, the Māori world and all its potential.
Te mātauranga ō te Pākehā moves through the present and ongoing colonial encounter. This movement is shown in Ngāwai’s waiata, to be a part of what Te Ahukaramu Charles Royal describes as the “perpetual becoming” of pūrākau (mythological traditions).5 Here we see this ship within te Ao Māori (the Māori world), as a present process moving through wā (time) and wāhi (space). Here the ship seems uncanny. We know it and imagine it to be of the past, in the form of memory. But it is here now and is always moving and becoming while at the same time thinking of itself as static and almost outside time.
The artworks of Ra’iatea priest, navigator, and artist Tupaia can help us here. As guide onboard Captain Cook’s Endeavor, Tupaia made images in watercolours five years before the English artist J.M.W Turner was born in Covent Garden, London. This medium was used by European artists onboard The Endeavor as a recording technology to document their journey. Tupaia sampled these techniques and sewed them to his skills that helped him navigate and communicate across te Moana nui a Kiwa (the Pacific Ocean). On reaching te Ika a Maui (the North Island) onboard Captain Cook’s Endeavor, Tupaia communicated with Māori, sharing some reo (language) and potentially whakapapa back to Hawaiki (ancient homeland of Māori). During this time Tupaia made an artwork of an exchange between Māori and the ‘Naturalist’ Joseph Banks. The thing to see in this image is seeing through Tupaia.
1 Weizman, Eyal. https://www.select.art.br/entrevista-com-eyal-weizman/#.XvodvJRR-J4.twitter. accessed 7th July 2020.
2 For a discussion around this definition of whakapapa see Simon Barber’s unpublished (2018) PhD Geometries of Life. http://research.gold.ac.uk/24372/
3 Stuart Hall, 'Museums of Modern Art and the End of History' In: Annotations 6: Stuart Hall and Sarat Maharaj: Modernity and Difference. Edited by Sarah Campbell and Gilane Tawadros. London: Institute of International Visual Arts, 2001, pp. 8-23.
4 See https://timeanalternativeguide.wordpress.com/ for further discussion on geographic coordination.
5 Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal, 'Māori creation traditions - Creation and the Māori world view', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/maori-creation-traditions/page-3 (accessed 8 July 2020)
CONOR LORIGAN (b.1988) is Pākehā Irish (Corcaigh, Thiobraid Árann) and grew up in Te Wao
nui o Tiriwa, Tāmaki Makaurau. He is a writer and tutors in Geography at University College
London with a focus on the ongoing colonial encounter between Māori and Pākehā worlds.
He is currently writing a PhD at The University of Amsterdam, School of Cultural Analysis.
This work follows his MA Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, London (2017) and BA
English, The University of Auckland (2014). Conor is kapa haka performer with Ngāti
Rānanā and is based in the south coast of England in a town called Seaford.