The Art of Offence
There is always some trepidation in creating artworks that may cause offence for a particularly fragile group.
The image of a Maori rugby player painted with red hair and white skin passing a moko mokai about was one which raised my protective mechanisms to defcom red for sure.
I always wonder who puts any Maori person we see on TV in the position of making pronouncements for all Maori.
To those who might find offense in this or other of my artwork.
This work has been on my mind for years. A whole series of "rugby" works actually.
It speaks to the trade of heads and the warlike nature of both peoples.
It is specifically directed toward males and their innate physical nature and love of warring.
It questions the idea of biculturalism and celebrates the rugged nature of rugby and the New Zealand male- Maori and Pakeha.
The player is a famous All Black, Sid Going painted to be Pakeha All Black Grant Batty.
The ball has been replaced by the Moko mokai and speaks to the brutality of contact sport and the New Zealand love of it but also the brutality of New Zealand's early days.
I was prompted to paint the image when cruising the net looking for images and came upon an
"educational" site which "out of respect" decided not to publish images of moko mokai… like deciding not to publish images of holocaust victims or editing out Winston Churchill's cigar… people are just not grown up enough to deal with ALL of the reality and some others must be protected from their emotional connection or weakness.
I see this as outrageous censorship and arrogance.
I do not believe the true nature of war and the head trade or in deed the original issues of Moko Mokai is so terrible or disgraceful that it needs to be hidden or re-written.
Like cannibalism it is a fact, just a fact and re-writing the facts to be spiritual or sacred disguises the truth and leaves the people who traded heads or ate people as savages or disgraceful.
The artwork is a statement of freedom from oppression of Pakeha/Christian belief that the Maori were savages and the shame it has created in the subconscious of Maori about past practices.
Cannibalism and head trading were just like any other human cultural specific, ways of being, nothing more and nothing less.
I am clear that if I had to go out with my family and fight an opposition with sticks and stones as weapons I would be elated with the winning and the living.
I am clear I would be very likely to take the head of my opposition home and give it a telling off and a punt around the back yard to revel in the euphoria such a victory would bring.
The idea of playing Petenque with the heads of the vanquished appeals to my sense of humor greatly.
This work is a celebration but also a questioning of what it means to be male in the same way as Miss Kiwianaville asks about what it is to be female in New Zealand today.
Like Catholics taking offense in the "Virgin in a Condom" artwork I think the offense is erroneous and a mendacious style of control and building of a power base which aims directly at stifling open conversation and free thought.
So it was with some surprise that I fielded a call in my studio from an All Black who wanted me to paint his face into the artwork concerned!
At first I thought no way but he was persistent to say the least and finally I agreed. My dear friend Alicia Courtney, a Pakeha Maori who knows far more of the secret World of Maori psychology than I ever could was very clear about the artwork. She said.
"This is the wheel come full circle, there is nothing surer than that Maori man wants to see himself running down the field with a head in his hands! You have to do that artwork! It is what the artwork is about!"So, one Maori man sees what I painted and identifies with it utterly.