Raglan artist chosen to confront racism with creativity
Raglan artist Simon Te Wheoro has been selected to respond creatively to alarming signs of racism, and spark crucial conversations about unity.
Creative Waikato, backed by the Waikato Community Funders Group, has instigated a campaign called ‘Kotahitanga through Creativity’ which asks artists from the region to create commissioned works across a variety of artforms.
Carved from the marble from demolished parliament buildings, Simon has been working on his piece entitled Ministry of Justice from his studio Toi Hauāuru.
Takaka marble is the only quarried marble in New Zealand and 5000 tonnes of it was used to build Parliament.
For Simon, the marble is significant as it ties the artwork to the Government and the many racist policies used against Māori in the past.
Representing a tear drop, the piece pays homage to his ancestors who were victims of colonisation and policies that systematically confiscated land, denied Māori the vote, the right to speak their native tongue and even their art practices through the Tōhunga Suppression Act 1907.
“The oppression and ongoing affects of colonisation continue to impact Māori even today. I can be Taika Waititi winning a Hollywood Oscar and be claimed as a New Zealander, however, if I steal a loaf of bread because I’m hungry I’m now labelled as a Māori and find myself wondering who gets to determine which ethnic side of me did the crime? Was it my Māori heritage or my English and Irish heritage?”
Simon hope his sculpture will make people engage with the topic of kotahitanga and racism, and how that plays out in Aotearoa.
An important value in te ao Māori, kotahitanga represents the importance of lifting each other up.
“We weren’t born racist, there are policies and attitudes that keep racism alive.”
Creative Waikato CEO Jeremy Mayall believes recent events across the globe have further demonstrated the urgency for action.
“We’re speaking up against racism through the most powerful language we know – art,” says Mayall.
The project was launched as a response to isolated incidents of racism being experienced around the region in the wake of COVID-19.
A Raglan Arts Weekend artist, Simon has used Lockdown to work on a series of sculptures using the Takaka.