Ki Piki: Snakes & Ladders


Fresh & Fruity

Kia ora,

This text attempts to answer a series of questions on how to negotiate operating within power structures in the creative spheres as indigenous working class artists. This essay shares experiences of racism, poverty and eating disorders which may be triggering.

Ngā mihi nui,
Fresh and Fruity


 

Ki Piki: Snakes and Ladders

Contents

PART ONE

  1. The art world is a eurocentric space in which few people speak out against racism & sexism, but allows those who exhibit abusive behaviours to continue to be successful.
  2. The art school as a space where white tutors tell people of colour that identity politics is ‘over’

PART TWO

  1. How do you unlearn ‘playing the game’ and reject the notion of ‘cultural capital’ within the art world?
  2. The university/art gallery as a ‘business’ and how to work within it
  3. How do you get the most you can out of an educational facility without feeling the need to compete or feeling alienated by your peers?
  4. How to promote yourself and succeed to positions you deserve without performing white supremacist and classist markers of value?
  5. How do you assert emotional boundaries in a space where you have no power and your emotional labour is taken as a given?
  6. How do you undermine a space that only seems to want to tokenise your difference for institutional gain?
  7. How do you navigate and manage your mental health within the fine arts industry/university system?
  8. How do you question the institution when it actively excludes not only you, but all people of colour unless they ‘sell well’?
  9. How do you avoid sexualising yourself through an older white male gaze, when that is the primary way you are permitted into art spaces or seen to have value in the arts community?
  10. How do you maintain your sense of optimism about the art world in terms of feeling like art can actually do something and that studying it is worthwhile?

 

PART ONE

1. The art world is a eurocentric space in which few people speak out against racism & sexism, but allows those who exhibit abusive behaviours to continue to be successful.

 1
Fig. 1 Ode to Cindy Sherman. Image courtesy of Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/tr3at_urs3lf_bab3).

 

I feel incredibly frustrated living in a community where people in positions of power will bitch about each other but never be openly critical with one another. These conversations should be happening both publicly and privately. For instance, City Gallery in Te Whanganui-a-tara should be held accountable for privileging racist white artists and continuing to operate in a way that is dangerous for people of colour, especially the recent Cindy Sherman and Francis Upritchard exhibitions.

Institutions with immense sway who won’t initiate discussions about the role of an institution are cowards and use the aesthetic of allyship as a branding strategy while retaining a colonial kaupapa. These discussions need to be critical, public and rhizomatic.

 

2. The art school as a space where white tutors tell people of colour that identity politics is ‘over’

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Fig. 2 Ode to Hans Ulbrich Obrist. Image courtesy of Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/tr3at_urs3lf_bab)

How do you make the white cube or the university a safer space to learn and make in?

These structures are intrinsically designed to permit dangerous behaviour and avoid accountability.

I have a tutor who repeats a statistic about men being more susceptible to being attacked while walking home than women. That may be correct but he hasn’t had to deal with the violence of the gaze, especially when u have been socialised as ‘female’.

Tutors telling young queer artists that ‘identity politics are over.’

How do you create an expansive worldview that isn’t Eurocentric within an institution?

US versus THEM dichotomy.

An older artist of colour told me, ‘things are better now don’t make a fuss.’

 

fig 3

Fig 3. Image courtesy of Kiwi Az Bro Facebook page (page now deleted)

Pākehā women debating how white passing or Māori I am on social media.

Being called Aboriginal in Australia then being spat at. I was thirteen and living in rural North Queensland. ‘But I’m Māori’, I said not realising that I was playing into the colonial classification systems that were designed to establish hierarchies between people of colour and to make us hate and compete with one another. Realising years later that the word ‘Aboriginal’ just meant indigenous.

Not fitting into an archetype of what constitutes an indigenous body.

There have been accounts in early colonial settings of kaumatua intentionally coupling wahine with pakeha men. The motivation for these pairings being that if their mokopuna are born fairer they will live unscathed. Kuia’s believed this would offer their mokopuna economic opportunities and social standing. Now when pākehā managers, curators, writers, peers and collaborators interrogate my legitimacy as Māori I recall my kuias striving to safeguard me and my whakapapa, unaware white supremacy would adapt and hurt us through invalidation for being too fair.

‘Although Australia has officially rejected the notion of blood quantum and genetic arithmetic, fair-skinned Aboriginal people are frequently asked the intrusive question “what part Aboriginal are you?”. So one’s proportion of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry, or “blood”, remains the defining factor of Indigenous authenticity for the non-indigenous population.’ [1] 

Identity is not a pie chart. Blood Quantum theories are racist and dehumanizing.

Identifying as a Māori in Australia made me feel empowered and supported. I felt deeply connected to the diaspora of other pacific bodies. I never felt ashamed to be Māori. When I returned to Aotearoa I became anxious about my indigenous identity.


 

PART TWO

1. How do you unlearn ‘playing the game’ and reject the notion of ‘cultural capital’ within the art world?

‘Cultural capital refers to the knowledge accumulated through upbringing and education… It is embodied through dispositions of the mind and body (such as accent, confidence and self assurance), objectified in cultural goods (such as books, computers, musical instruments), institutionalised in the form of educational qualifications, and converted to economic capital via paid employment. The embodiment of cultural capital in dispositions of mind and body is referred to as habitus’.[2]

The art world as a place where money matters more than people. The university as a place where money matters more than people.

While people motivated by profit have had incredible power to influence trends and reputations, those with less financial stake ought to take it as their duty to resist these tendencies and to question the supposed absolutes of the market.[3]

The art world moves at the same rate as the fashion industry, with all those WMAs[4] in Nike Frees and fake Comme ready to run the race.

fig4

Fig. 4 Image courtesy of Sotheby’s Institute of art

I had a dream last night where I was playing water polo with a number of the pakeha curators at various institutions across Aotearoa and Australia. I was on a team of my peers, which only included two other people of colour. Our team were fast and ferocious swimmers, but these curators were vicious every time any of the artists of colour received the ball. They ploughed their bodies into us like a rugby scrum. One curator took particular delight in trying to drown me. Bodies would pile on top of each other. At first we tried to help each other or looked to the referee who feigned ignorance. My friend got his head cut open and had to get out. A white art dealer told him not to play the ‘race card’. Our bodies sunk to the bottom of a pool as we struggled to come up for air. A pakeha female curator pulled me out of the water and told me, ‘Y’know Hana you are pretty light skinned why don’t you stop lying to yourself.’

She has no interest in shopping. She and Michel are indifferent to luxury but, as children of working-class families, they’re aware of the cost of the freedom to think. [5]

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Fig. 5 Bathrooms are regularly a sanctuary. A selfie in the mirror as the only way I can visualise myself within the institution.

‘Self-confidence among some of our working-class participants was much harder won and easily undermined. This was particularly so for those who were the first in their family to go to university. For many of these young people, venturing onto terrain that is traditionally middle-class carried with it stresses beyond direct material concerns such as tuition fees and living expenses. Cultural capital played an important role.’ [6]

Conventions of taste and sophistication are partially an internal subjective selection and partially determined by a network of hierarchies and commerce. Working class exist in a state of precarity. Soft manipulations, harsh corporeal punishments. Students making work about hating their bodies and contriving cyber sentience as an escape. The working class have vastly different understandings of our bodies. Our bodies function as a prison, and/or are imprisoned.  Andrea Fraser turning the Whitney Museum into a prison. Is it fair for artists unscathed by these conditions to be leading public discourse? Sitting at a protest for prison abolition and wondering how many people around me also have a parent recently incarcerated. Mannerisms and physical markers of ‘health’ are signs of socio economic status. Our physicality is a threat. The habitus middle class bodies and minds absorb permits them the success within institutions and society that lower class bodies are denied.

Having to rapidly learn and re-perform tacit knowledge is killing me.

6

Fig 6. Aesop catalogue, Image courtesy of Aesop 

2.The university/art gallery as a ‘business’ and how to work within it

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Fig. 7 Image courtesy of Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/k_spacegal/)

The university as a corporation which leaves young people in crippling debt that they will struggle to pay off. Studying at university is infinitely more draining when you have to work to pay basic necessities and manage massive debt.

 

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Fig. 8 Image courtesy of Google lol


tuhituhi from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

I dance four nights a week in order to eat and make rent while I study towards my Masters degree. Every time I go to class I’m exhausted. I read approximately three to four books per week in between stage spots. The course coordinator acts as though I’m a slacker because I missed a couple of classes. The language on the timetable outlining when we have class was too esoteric and I got confused. I don’t have a studio practice, but feel pressure to be in my studio, because I’m paying for it.

‘“I could never work at an art gallery again,” she says, describing an environment “driven by people who cannot imagine or fathom” her life experience. That included her long daily commute to and from the Bronx, not always feeling safe in her neighborhood, or the fact that her father, although loving and supportive, understood little of what her career in the arts entailed.’[7]

 

3. How do you get the most you can out of an educational facility (art school) without feeling the need to compete or feeling alienated by your peers?

’M.F.A. programs, rather than serving as sites for experimentation and refining one’s style, have evolved into monotonous trade schools and debt-generating networking clubs’[8]

Taking up unpaid roles is, in a nuanced way, a luxury. Having the financial security to run an ARI[9] knowing your family can support you is a comfort not afforded to all.

An overt indicator of privilege is when groups co-opt and fetishize the signifiers of the working class, without having a stake in the financial consequences of being poor.

I can’t engage with poverty art or trash aesthetic. Seeing affluent educated practitioners within the arts community impersonate the reality your family hustle to avoid is nauseating and alienating. Go back to your leafy street suburb bih.

 

4. How to promote yourself and succeed to positions you deserve without performing white supremacist and classist markers of value?

The art world as a community where social capital, gained through displays of class and whiteness or palatable difference, ensures economic opportunities

Being at openings feels like distorted class tourism, I feel I am walking in another world. I always notice the spread. The staple for ARIS and smaller art institutions is a gluten free grain bread, hummus and soft cheese. Imagine going to an opening and the spread is boil up with white bread and butter.

I am the only person in my family to be university educated. When I travel home for holidays my mum and nana always make a point of buying me plunger coffee, soy milk and wholegrain bread. Back home my family drink instant coffee with milk and sugar and eat white bread and butter. I can’t pretend I’m not engaging in class warfare by choosing soy. When I navigate situations where I have to eat in an art setting I am always hyper self-aware. Don’t eat carbs, especially refined carbs. People will know you are poor. Don’t eat too quickly. Don’t eat anything sugary, that’s an invitation for white women to stare at you while thinking about the diabetes statistics for Māori. Ideally just don’t eat at all. You are abject enough already. You already take up too much space and deplete the resources of public institutions.

 

I’m way too good to you

You’re way too good for marae kai…

You take my love for granted

I just don’t understand it.

 

Breakfast: Vegan protein smoothie with cacao, dates, chia, acai, almond milk & coconut kefir.

Lunch: Soy frappe, gluten free macadamia nut cookie, kawakawa tonic & organic avocado on gf bagel.

Dinner: Vegan gf pizza, kale and fennel salad & jasmine and liquorice root tea.

Snack: Pomegranate seeds, cold press espresso w/ almond milk

 

patty from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

 

She died of aesthetic labour…

 

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Fig. 9 Image courtesy of Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/amaliaulman/)

‘In 2001 Andrea Fraser performed Official Welcome which was commissioned by the MICA Foundation in New York and executed during an opening speech for the unveiling of the foundation’s new art piece at a private event of one of its members. During Official Welcome, Fraser mimics art personalities and patrons, before stripping down to just her underwear and shoes, proclaiming, ‘I’m not a person today. I’m an object within an artwork.’[10]

Maintenance rituals and physical self-manipulations unconsciously employed to appeal to and mimic the bourgeois. Buying Aēsop and Kowtow. Codes of professionalism, corporate art market, Kylie Jenner bikini body. The WMA can dress in ripped jeans and scuffed New Balances from 2001 and be worshipped. Women of colour are held to heightened aesthetic measures just to be taken seriously and acknowledged as having personhood.

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Fig 10. Image courtesy of Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/p/BGJnsQTKyRL/)


5. How do you assert emotional boundaries in a space where you have no power and your emotional labour is taken as a given?

cute from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

 

Numerous women I know with creative practices find themselves paralysed. They repeatedly express an overwhelming need to justify their working processes and output, resulting in paralysis. Meanwhile established male artists lack awareness of the ethics of their practice and are offended at public discourse requesting them to justify their often expensive and large scale works.

qt from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

I try to exclusively extend my emotional energy to support women, especially indigenous women, with creative practices. I constantly find myself doing emotional labour for men in my community, even when they aren’t present or actively demanding it. My labour is a given and to deny it to these men construes me as resentful or unsupportive.

 
6. How do you undermine a space that only seems to want to tokenise your difference for institutional gain?

A white female curator in a white, conservative community made me exploit my indigeneity by forcing me into situations where I wasn’t culturally confident/competent while she wrote a CNZ funding report.

Did u get ur KPIs?

No, I am not a statistic for you to exploit for funding.

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Fig. 11

A snake uses the aesthetics of poc and decolonising methodologies to feign alliance. How would ya’ll ever cope in a space that isn’t eurocentric and privileging your voice and power over mine? They won’t pass the mic. They won’t advocate or make space for anyone, because they are climbing the ladder.

12 copy

Fig. 12 Images courtesy of iPhone 5 OS

‘It appals us that the West can desire, extract and claim ownership of our ways of knowing, our imagery, the things we create and produce, and then simultaneously reject the people who created and developed those ideas and seek to deny them further opportunities to be creators of their own culture and own nations.’ [11]

It’s easy to make risky work when you have financial security. Galleries showing minority artists, and not supporting them through oppressive responses to their work are exploitative.

bored from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

 

7. How do you navigate and manage your mental health within the fine arts industry/university system?

Uncertainty is a precedent in all interactions for working class and indigenous people. Living in a rental property on land stolen from your tīpuna. Casual contracts in low ranking positions. Precarity posits you in a state of mere survival.

‘Neoliberal discourses assume that individual success is a primary goal for all… many young Pasifika and Maori people were also acutely aware of how their success (or otherwise) would reflect more broadly on their ethnic group, a concern not felt by their pākehā peers.’[12]

Indigenous self-determination. Tino rangatiratanga.

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Fig. 13 Image courtesy of @esoteric_queen (https://www.instagram.com/esoteric_queen/)

I feel unsafe starting intersectional critical dialogue within an arts or academic context. I’m anxious writing this tbh. My mental health issues are often induced by my fraught identity. Auē in the uber.

gg in uber from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

I am constantly placed in a situation where I have to explain the effects of colonisation. I was recently in a heated discussion with a stranger at an art event about the government’s superannuation fund and how the Māori party objected to raising the age of retirement for Māori. I think about the life expectancy rate for Māori constantly. All of the elders on the Māori side of my whānau passed away in their fifties to sixties, whereas on my pākehā side they were in their eighties to nineties. This is due to many factors related to colonisation namely access to education, healthcare, jobs and adequate housing. The mass incarceration rate of Māori. The land I’m standing on was stolen, school didn’t teach us about the acts of genocide committed against Māori. Everything is seen as ‘fine’, because we have a treaty that’s rarely acknowledged. I thought about all these things and cried in front of this man who just laughed. I went to the bathroom and had an anxiety attack.

14

Fig. 14

I felt uncomfortable at art openings in Australia when white ppl would acknowledge the indigenous people and the land as being stolen, because although I understand it’s important I’m just curious as to whom and what purpose does this serve? Do your decolonisation efforts extend beyond this? Are u merely trying to absolve yourself of guilt?

 


8. 
How do you question the institution when it actively excludes not only you, but all people of colour unless they ‘sell well’?

 Concentrate. The sorrow is humiliated. [13]

I remember this time I worked for pākehā art consultants who were whining about how they couldn’t sell this particular work by a known racist, queerphobic, transphobic WMA. Both are wealthy, educated men who drive range rovers and wear Hugo Boss suits. I was an unpaid intern who performed endless domestic labour and menial tasks. I interjected into their conversation and stated how his work didn’t really need space, because it was hugely appropriative. One got incredibly defensive and asked me to explain cultural appropriation. He then laughed and talked about how women artists don’t sell, apart from Tracey Moffatt, because of the ‘race thing’. He said ‘Aboriginals have had it so terrible in Australia, not like how we’ve treated maareys.’

My skin shudders as I walk through the academic offices recalling being an art history student and physically making my body smaller. Every tutorial before I spoke I said, ‘Sorry, excuse me.’ I walk past a Simon Denny work and yawn with glee. His work is apolitical and his methods of communicating are esoteric. He’s completely media trained. There are tiny cubicles filled with bespectacled pakeha academics, they gaze up at me, probably wondering why I’m there. I try to interrupt unapologetically during lectures. Especially in instances when academics rely on western art histories that are essentially colonial discourses to discuss race/class/gender and this categorical oppression and erasure doesn’t threaten them. 

15

Fig. 15 Hana featuring Simon Denny

Writing about my terrible experiences of sexual assault by a WMA for a book. I check Facebook and see the institution’s head curator has invited him to a party she is hosting the weekend after my show opens.

Certain types of bodies are welcome in galleries.

hikoi from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

It is the opening night for an exhibition I co-curated. For the first time I have invited my mum to one of my openings. She enters the gallery and is noticeably uncomfortable. She hunches, decreasing her visibility. As the only older and brown woman in a room of budding art professionals invisibility is impossible.

I notice more and more that I cannot rely on my pākehā peers within the art world to advocate for me when I experience any form of prejudice. To feel safe I have surrounded myself with other artists of colour.

 

9. How do you avoid sexualising yourself through an older white male gaze, when that is the primary way you are permitted into art spaces or seen to have value in the arts community?

Accentuating your features as exotic rather than abject to a white male gaze. Pania of the reef. Scammer. My body as commodity in the art market. Posing as an innocuous and ubiquitous femme object/body amongst other insipid art objects.

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Fig. 16

We play the game of ‘which Sex and the City character are you?’ and, as always, I am Charlotte. I would prefer to have a cocker spaniel than have children, sure. I like Charlotte’s shiny hair and she studied Art History too. But I don’t think I’m as highly strung. Maybe I am. Maybe I’ve internalised the codes of acceptable femme sexuality in varying contexts. I am cognizant that I don’t have the personal stability and security to be a Samantha as this inevitably influences my work life in the suffocatingly boundless art sphere.

sxc from Runway Experimental Art on Vimeo.

I want to be sexy, but not too sexy…

More cute sexy

An older male artist is drunk at an art event and puts his arm around me, explaining to me how I’m too pretty to be an artist and how I would look better behind a desk. I object to his advances and he rebuts telling me he’s ‘done’ identity politics and that a work I made is racist towards white people.

 

10. How do you maintain your sense of optimism about the art world in terms of feeling like art can actually do something and that studying it is worthwhile?

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Fig. 17 Image courtesy of Instagram

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Fig. 18 Image courtesy of Instagram

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Fig. 19 Image courtesy of Twitter

I don’t know how to continue making art, curating exhibitions, studying or writing. I am overwhelmed by the mass of luxury object art being manufactured and sold. It’s tough to engage in the art world when you compare the sale price of banal works to your parents income. Walking past a dealer gallery and dissolving into tears.

20

Fig. 20

DJ Khaled’s speech in Hold You Down[14] got me through the final semester of my undergraduate degree.

‘You smart. You’re loyal. You’re grateful. I appreciate that. Go buy your mama a house. Go buy your whole family houses. Put this money in your savings account.’

 

  • This version has been edited from the original article on 22/2/17

 

[1]Myles Russel-Cook, The Imposter, The Fraud Complex, (West Space:Melbourne)

[2]Karen Nairn, Jane Higgins and Judith Sligo, Children of Rogernomics: A neoliberal generation leaves school, (Otago University Press, 2012), 24

[3] Daniel. S. Palmer, Go Pro: The Hyper-Professionalism of the Emerging Artist on ARTNEWS, published 03/09/2016,  http://www.artnews.com/2016/03/09/go-pro-the-hyper-professionalization-of-the-emerging-artist/

[4] WMA = white male artist

[5] Chris Kraus, Summer of Hate, (South Pasadena:Semiotext, 2012), 159

[6] Ibid, 25

[7] Anna Louie Sussman, Can only rich kids afford to work in the art world? On Artsy.net published 14/02/2017 https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-rich-kids-afford-work-art-world

[8] Daniel. S. Palmer, Go Pro: The Hyper-Professionalism of the Emerging Artist on ARTNEWS, published 03/09/2016,  http://www.artnews.com/2016/03/09/go-pro-the-hyper-professionalization-of-the-emerging-artist/

[9] ARI=Artist Run Initiative. Art run spaces, art collectives, publications etc.

[10] Hele Armitage, Andrea Fraser too shocking for a US retrospective, on The Culture Trip https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/california/articles/andrea-fraser-too-shocking-for-a-us-retrospective/

[11] Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Decolonizing methodologies (Zedd Books: London, 2012), 1

[12]Ibid, 175.

[13] Ariana Reines, The Cow. (Fence books: United states, 2006), 75

[14] https://youtu.be/s3VzzUkQTlE

Fresh and Fruity is an art collective based in Aotearoa/online. Founded in Ōtepoti as a physical space in 2014 it now exists entirely online and...


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