Northart, Norman King Square, Ernie Mays St, Northcote Shopping Centre.
Till 24 August.
Photographer Stephen Piper spent two weeks in Southland this year photographing images for his first solo exhibition – South – currently on at Northart Gallery at the Northcote Shopping Centre in Auckland. English and a location scout by trade, Piper brings a filmic quality to the images and while the gorgeous landscape is there, Piper’s primary focus is how objects and buildings are in situ. And the relationship these things have with their surroundings.
Some of the buildings look like dilapidated Hollywood sets, there’s also a concrete bear beside a brick house. I am drawn to the image of ageing industrialism below; and how it could be from anywhere. It reminds me of films I’ve seen about unhappy teens in small town America. The buildings have a weird beauty to them. Another shows a caravan sandwiched between rocks. The image is post-apocalyptic and once again there is displacement and beauty.
The two photos, which show only landscape, are dreamy concoctions. I want to follow the path into the forest, into the Nothingness.
South, photographs by Stephen Piper.
Northart, Norman King Square, Ernie Mays St, Northcote Shopping Centre.
Till 24 August.
I can’t bring myself to read too much more about Moko Rangitoheriri, the Rotorua toddler killed by his caregivers. There’s a sickening depravity to it all; a couple completely disconnected from their own humanity, and the human spirit in others. They did unspeakable things to this poor boy. Also in the news last month, a three year old raped in her Whangarei home by a family friend ‘amped on meth’. The offender claims he can’t remember the incident.
A couple of years ago, Nigel Latta gave us an insider’s view of the minds of violent criminals in his television series Beyond the Darklands. One episode focused on Nia Glassie, another Rotorua toddler tortured and killed by her whānau. Across all the episodes the stand-out, consistent feature in all of the criminals’ background was poor attachment as children. When babies don’t attach to their parents, they don’t develop empathy. As adults some of them become capable of violent, psychopathic behaviour.
Kendrick Lamar has been doing loop the loop at my place. The album Untitled Unmastered underlays spoken word with Jazz riffs. It’s a masterpiece, less structured and polished than To Pimp a Butterfly, but much cooler. It brings the listener much closer to the artist. On one track Lamar is the voice of the dispossessed, sitting in his car at traffic lights watching a businessman crossing the road. The protagonist is going to follow the businessman home and bash his head open with a baseball bat.
Hong Kong based writer Vaughan Rapatahana writes similar stream of consciousness stories about angry men. I’ve edited the work twice. The close repeated reading required of editing means by the time the job is finished I feel the rage; the nutty hatred. In a weird way I get it and I feel sick. Here’s an excerpt from his short story Spree from the inaugural issue of the Māori literary journal Ora Nui.
He had killed again that very day, in fact: random; violent; quick. He didn’t think that anyone had even seen him again this time, and he was rapidly getting to the point where he didn’t really care much anymore anyway.
He had to kill a lot more frequently now. The urge seized him and took over much more than it had ever before. He shivered, but not through worry or fear. Merely because it was cold out there in the park, and frost had already started to form under his bare feet. No shoeprints you see. Somewhere a stray dog was whelping toward the nascent moon.
He breathed deeply and took off the rubber gloves he had bought down the line in a $2 shop somewhere. He rammed them into a pocket of his nicked overalls and breathed again. It was becoming so easy to kill, he thought. And this last one had hardly even put up a fight. It was almost as if she had wanted to be part of her own demise.
Whetu trudged away back home. He would have a shower and then lie on his bed and relive the sensation of peace that killing gave him.
A Velvet Rage
Inside me there is a velvet rage. Its sources are multiple: growing up gay in a world I couldn’t make sense of, racism, injustice, my mother’s violent death, my father’s addiction and dementia, broken relationships, a constant and niggling frustration at my own inadequacies. Sometimes the pain prickles underneath the surface of my skin. At others it is in my chest and I want to scream at life’s unfairness. I feel mad.
But there is perfection in the pain too. And once I see the beauty, healing follows.
About the images
This sculpture from Tia Ranginui is called States of Being. The work explores the concept of mauri, expressions of wellbeing, and a continual journey of healing and wellness.
Hong Kong hideaway
New Zealand artist Mark Schdroski has been domiciled in Hong Kong for the last fifteen years. He lives with his partner, jeweller Edmond Chin, in Central Hong Kong. They own two apartments side by side, which they have developed into a single dwelling. Chin’s clients are international; actresses wear Chin diamonds to the Academy Awards.
Schdroski’s art is painterly, abstract, modernist. The pieces sit well inside the highly organised chaos of Hong Kong, especially the larger oils which are layered and detailed. Schdroski and Chin’s own art collection is significant, their apartment stuffed with paintings, drawings and objets d’art. Wherever you look, art is there. At the back they have a large terrace, unheard of in a city where many people live in a room.
Viewing of Schdroski’s first exhibition earlier this year was by appointment. Despite his time away from New Zealand, the homeland’s influence is still there. It is an outsider’s view of the world; Schdroski is very curious and questioning. Last time I was in Hong Kong I bought a small oil which hangs on the wall into my office. The abstraction is clearly there, but I see human form, and also the sky – and I remember that all things are possible.
Bridget Williams Books continues its re-writing of New Zealand’s history, with the publication of A History of New Zealand Women by Barbara Brooks. Last year’s Tangata Whenua did a brilliant job of recording a comprehensive Māori history, and A History of New Zealand Women sets out to re-position our cultural narrative of women. By exploring key periods and events through the lens of women’s experience, the book “sheds a more holistic light on the way we view ourselves, and the understanding of where we’ve come from.”
I very much admire Bridget Williams' mission. When we talked last week about the politics of publishing, Williams said that we must always live on the bridge between cultures. Her approach is very inclusive and collaborative, which makes for a much more rounded interpretation of our history. As a technician she understands the importance of the interplay between images and text, her histories are brought alive through photography and art. Artwork from Star Gossage graces the cover of A History of New Zealand Women. A woman's face is peaceful but her heart; the heart swirls.
Gossage continues her ascent as a significant New Zealand artist with a new exhibition at Tim Melville Gallery in Newton, Auckland. Gossage and Solomon Enos explore Mana Moana in the new body of work, a movement inspired by Tongan philosopher Epeli Hau'ofa who espoused an ocean-based philosophy, and strengthening of connections rather than "land-based thought systems that divide and separate." Gossage's characteristic style is there, so too the sunshine, the flora and the colour of the Pacific.
Chapter ten of A History of New Zealand Women opens with a photograph of my parents Pius and Arapera Blank, outside St John’s Church in Rangitukia, where they were married in 1958. The minister leans forward to hongi my father, a Swiss migrant who’d been in New Zealand only six years at the time.
Arapera was quietly secure in her own aesthetic. She was also an English graduate; an Anglophile, obsessed with Shakespeare and Yates. She spoke English with an upper-crust accent. As Arapera moved from the country to the city and integrated herself into an increasingly European world, her look, her European husband, the Queen’s English – these things were her weapons, taiaha, as she plundered the Brave New World for things she wanted. She first visited Switzerland in 1960.
My favourite Swiss aunt was Tante Zita, an exquisitely thin, elegant woman and couturiere in Rorschach. Zita washed her grey hair in beer and she would then would roll it into a chignon. Zita had long nails, which she painted everyday, and she smoked cigarettes through a long black cigarette-holder. I was an introverted and sensitive homosexual child but when I met Zita in Switzerland in 1970, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Anxiety lived in Tante Zita like the purr of the hummingbird. It was constant and focused. Zita worried about her favourite and youngest brother Pius, who lived half a world away and had married into an indigenous culture she didn’t understand. My three cousins, daughters of Tante Cecile and young girls when they met Arapera in 1960, were fascinated by my mother, who would sit quietly as the family chatted in Swiss-German. The girls were especially thrilled when Arapera took them swimming in Lake Konstanz, which forms a border between Switzerland and Germany. Because the locals admired the alien.
A History of New Zealand Women - Barbara Brookes in bookstores and online at http://bwb.co.nz/
Mana Moana AKL HNL - Star Gossage and Solomon Enos at Tim Melville Gallery, 4 Wincester St, Grey Lynn, Auckland till 2 April http://www.timmelville.com/
For someone I love - a collection of writing by Arapera Blank in bookstores and online at www.antonblank.com
There’s a lengthy feature about my colleague Hautahi Kingi in the February issue of North and South.
Born and raised in Whanganui, Kingi is the progeny of a Māori father and Pākehā mother. Educated at kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa Māori, he spoke no English until he was seven. He went on to win scholarships to attend St George’s, a preparatory school for Whanganui Collegiate, and another scholarship to finish his secondary education at Collegiate itself. In 2005 Kingi topped the school in accounting and statistics; from there the list of academic and sporting achievements continued, including runner up for dux in his final year. In 2006 he won more scholarships to attend Victoria University to study maths and commerce.
Returning from Wellington to Whanganui for a Collegiate house party that year, Kingi assaulted a male student who’d been dating Kingi’s girlfriend of three years. After completing 250 hours community work, apologising to the victim, and paying reparation, he was later sentenced to five months in prison, an extraordinary sentence given the very significant amends he’d already made. His case was later taken up by Queen’s Counsel Colin Carruthers, and in September 2007 the judgement was finally overturned.
The story has the narrative arc of a movie script, a young man’s fall from grace and subsequent redemption. Kingi has now almost completed a PHD in economics at ivy league Cornell University in upstate New York. Our paths first crossed last year when I was looking for speakers for a health symposium in Wellington. Google his name and news coverage of the case comes up. I was unperturbed; take the incident out of the picture, and Kingi’s profile is insanely perfect. The stories were a remarkable glimpse of human frailty.
Kingi was ostracised by Whanganui Collegiate after the 2006 incident. The North and South article is therefore a quietly troubling read about the nastiness of provincial New Zealand (I was reminded of Janet Frame’s Owls do Cry) and the latent racism of our criminal justice system. The big question posed by the article is would Kingi have been treated so harshly if he were white? Maori constitute 14.6% of the population of New Zealand, and account for 51% of the country’s prison population. The figure is even higher for Māori women at 58%. Researcher Kim Workman has found that Māori are five times more likely than other groups to be arrested. Not two years ago, the United Nations warned that New Zealand’s high incarceration rate of Māori was a breach of international law.
Even in the case of a high achiever like Kingi, the system unleashes its prejudice. A decade ago when I left a management position at the Ministry of Education to start my own business, a senior manager said to me ‘well aren’t the Māori middle-class doing very nicely then?’ Only last year a Pākehā literati pontificating about the position of Māori literature within the New Zealand canon, told me that ‘some people would argue that literature is a European tradition.’ Māori failure and success are both open to being judged and penalised.
Dr Carla Houkamou from the University of Auckland, Hautahi Kingi and I are now developing a study of systems bias towards African American and Māori children. Along with his experience as an international academic Kingi brings a refreshing Gen Y positivity to the project, his mind is open, unfettered by dogma. His writing has the same breeziness and optimism, even when it focuses on weighty issues like immigration, poverty and Māori development. When our team of three meets on Skype, his face is fair, the eyes wide set, the smile broad. Despite the adversity of his recent history I can still see the senior student from Whanganui Collegiate smiling at me from the pages of North and South. He is holding two trophies and a medal, and his face is beatific.
Ranginui and Rihanna
Whanganui photographer Tia Ranginui’s new exhibition Glazed Donut opened at Space Studio and Gallery (spacestudiogallery.co.nz) in Whanganui this week.
Through photography Ranginui explores the objectification and sexualisation of the male form. She takes conventions normally associated with the photography of women (artistically, pornographically and commercially), and applies them to men and the results are très cool.
A man sits, his face hidden from view, a large disco ball between his legs. Another image has a young man, again photographed from the neck down, in silver trunks peeling a banana. In another, the subject stretches out on a linoleum floor in his Calvin Kleins. There’s a camp kitchness to this side of the work that’s very 90s gay dance party. I’ve seen Kylie Minogue strike similar poses.
The work becomes more intriguing when Ranginui turns her gaze to her bearded and muscular husband Manu. His poses are much more testosterone-fuelled, and once again retro, but this time I’m reminded of early photographs of Arnold Schwarzenegger. When butch boys present themselves as sexual objects, this is how they do it. It’s very much about the strength and beauty of the male body. They project their prowess.
The two sides of this body of work are different expressions of masculinity, which is not a fixed phenomena, and should always be open to reinvention. Māori are very attracted to clearly defined masculinity (the warrior, the sports-star, the hunter) when many of us don’t have the pre-requisites required for this type of manhood. A corollary of this hyper-masculinity is that men are not given a way of expressing their vulnerability apart from anger.
Manu’s naked form in front of a curtain depicting a forest hints at the possibility of masculine vulnerability, because on close inspection you can see his scrotum. Sensitivity and femininity are much more obvious in the photos where the mimicking of sex-photography of women is present.
There is another image, which for me stands to one side, outside Ranginui’s central gaze. A woman is photographed from behind doing a hand-stand against the wall of a brick house. She wears a g-string. Her skin is mocha-coloured, the legs strong and muscular, bringing us back to the question at the heart of this exhibition. What is gender?
Rihanna transitions from pop-star to artist on her latest album ANTI and I can’t get enough of it. It’s a dreamy mix of electronica, drawing from influences as diverse as doo-wop to country. Desperado sounds like something from a Tarantino soundtrack, Rihanna as cowboy. And Drake makes an appearance on Work, his voice sweet and cutesy, responding to Rihanna’s throaty vocals centre-stage ...
Emerging out of a decade of drug addiction in my mid-forties I was faced with a dilemma, what now? I had lost track of myself and my purpose, drugs the ultimate avoidant, which kept me away from a life I couldn’t make sense of. Ever since childhood I’d felt like a possum in the headlights.
This had lead to a cycle of psychological crises over the years. Finding myself in jobs and life-situations that made me unhappy, I turned in on myself, in a torment of self-doubt and self-loathing. Drugs offered me the relief I’d been searching for. What I liked most was the instantaneous psychological transformation, self-doubt disappeared and I felt fabulous.
That I couldn’t maintain a sense of wellbeing without the assistance of drugs, was an issue I avoided by taking more. For the whole of this period, my life stalled. I was able to maintain the semblance of a career but there was no planning, no development. This was deeply damaging to the relationships that mattered most.
There was an inevitable crisis, and I cleaned up, finally convinced that I could never take drugs or drink alcohol again.
Very early in recovery, I called a friend to talk about a life-decision. You need a plan she said, you’ve got nothing to guide your decision-making. This was an epiphany, which would set a course for the next decade. I set goals for the following six months, which became a reference point. Since then the goals have developed, the direction of my life more clearly focused.
I am in a continual process of reflection and evaluation. What is my higher purpose? How do I contribute? What makes me happy?
The possibilities have become more expansive over the years. I want to grow and develop; I never want to feel that I am in the same place, treading water. This sense of growth and development is very central to my happiness; without it I am left with a sense of low-level and continuous discontentment.
More than contentment, what I am looking for is joy, I want to feel exhilarated by my life. This is attainable but it takes effort, and often requires me to push myself into the most uncomfortable and challenging spaces. It is here that I discover my capabilities and they are limitless.
I am mesmerised by the transition of Bruce Jenner, the absolutely gorgeous American decathlete in his day, from man to woman. Everything playing out in worldwide media, positioned at the epicentre of popular culture, it is a publicist’s wet dream. The strange face of Bruce Jenner now makes sense. In his interview with Diane Sawyer, he said that he would use the transition to change the world. I believed him.
At high tea last week-end I had a conversation with a friend who wondered what a transsexual prostituting on Hollywood Boulevard would have thought of Caitlyn Jenner’s glamorous photo shoot in Vanity Fair. Can transgender be wealthy? Are all transsexuals prostitutes? Caitlyn challenges our assumptions. I love this picture of Caitlyn in her Porsche, a gift from her ex-wife Kris Jenner. Touché!
Image: Vanity Fair
Binary gender rhetoric always been errant nonsense. Our new awareness of gender dysphoria, driven by popular culture through programmes like Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Orange is the New Black, de-stablises long-held cultural assumptions. This is something gay men have been playing with for years. When we adopted the personal pronoun ‘she’, it was the Black is Beautiful syndrome. We’d been called sissies and girls for years, so we owned it. Yes we are feminine. She, Caitlyn Jenner, is a father. All things are now possible.
In the Pacific we celebrate a history of gender fluidity. After speaking at the Kai Tahu Writers' Hui a couple of weeks ago, I was given a copy of the Kai Tahu magazine Te Karaka http://ngaitahu.iwi.nz/te-karaka/issue-66/page/2/ by its editor Mark Revington. In it there is a great article about women issuing wero and using taiaha, activities conventionally assigned to men. In the piece Pita Sharples argues that traditionally these roles were shared. Survival dictated that everyone fight. My mother Arapera Blank, a woman absolutely saturated in tikanga Maori, told me many aspects of tikanga are modern inventions. When she was a child you couldn’t tell who was tangata whenua and who was manuhiri at the marae. Everyone sat together.
Some of the tikanga we now endure is, in my view, slightly backward, and highly colonised behaviour. Men at the front women at the back, it’s what the Americans used to do to Blacks on buses. I experience heightened anxiety in the front row of powhiri. I don’t aspire to whaikorero and struggle with the waiata, I feel like an idiot.
Ngati Porou has a reputation for allowing women to speak on the marae. At Whaea McClutchie’s tangi in 1992 (she was a kuia renowned for occupying this space), Koro Dewes motioned to my mother Arapera to sit with him in the front row. When she rose to her feet to speak haltingly, she stared into middle distance, as she did when she composed poetry. For thirty years, Arapera had been writing about the role of Maori women, her central thesis that Maori women are greater than Maori men because they are both mother and father to their children. And yet here, in this slightly ethereal moment, she is, like me, absolutely discombobulated in the front row, you know?
Image: Pius Blank
to buy For someone I love - a collection of writing by Arapera Blank
I have been on the road for the last few weeks as part of my work with the Public Health Association, visiting the regions to deliver training in policy and communications, and having discussions with local health providers about Maori health needs.
The development of Maori media and the proliferation of social media is having a profound impact on Maori workers. Years ago when I delivered media training to Maori organisations, they were innately suspicious of the media, afraid of any contact from them, because of the racist coverage that might follow.
Things have changed, however. Maori Television, Te Karere, Marae Investigates, Te Manukorihi News on Radio New Zealand, iwi radio – these are relatively new channels that are more sympathetic to Maori issues. If you are involved in any type of Maori work, it’s highly likely that you will come into contact with Maori media at some stage, and you can expect the interaction to be positive.
Social media is also huge. Maori love Facebook, which has become like a new marae; the place where we gather and catch up with whanau. Many organisations have a Facebook presence, even-though it poses a few challenges and risks. Facebook invites feedback from our audience and for organisations sensitive to criticism, jettisoning themselves into this space can raise a few issues. Some of them do it superbly though, especially when they are confident in their voice, and are fearless.
Maori Television is one of the most successful brands in the country. I hear only positive things about it.
During the training we spend a bit of time looking at the concept of brand, and people’s engagement with brands. Generally punters understand that this is much more than a logo; that there’s an attendant experience or feeling that is generated by a brand. That is easy when we talk about meta-brands like Nike or McDonald’s, more challenging when we focus on small community groups and health providers, who have never thought about themselves in that way.
I too have had cause to reflect on my own brand of late. Until this year I had the safety of an organisational brand and structure, through the Maori child advocacy organisation Mana Ririki, to shield myself. In media interviews, I represented the brand, which felt like a safety net.
When the government announced its hardship package for vulnerable families in the Budget, I gave interviews to Maori media as me, Anton Blank, the child-advocate. I am now my brand. Speaking at a post-budget breakfast, I realised I was presenting one singular Maori perspective, and without an organisational mandate, I had to rely on my moral compass to decide what I wanted to say.
So, I said that because poverty had hit Maori and Pasifika hardest over the last three decades, and we had seen an exponential growth in poverty over the time, the new hardship measures would do little to substantively change the situation for poor Maori and Pasifika. I felt isolated, with many child advocates viewing the hardship package as a positive step.
What about my brand? What does it stand for?
The more important story I wanted to tell, however, was how the body of Maori knowledge about poverty is growing. Dr Carla Houkamou from the University of Auckland has been in the media of late talking about her studies of Maori identity and diversity, which show that particular groups of Maori (those who look distinctly Maori), are more likely to experience discrimination than others.
Her colleague Dr Manuka Henare published the first definitive description of Maori and Pasifika child poverty four years ago, and Mokopuna Ora provider Whakawhetu is now in the process of commissioning narrative interviews with poor Maori whanau. The interviews will explore how these families experience poverty and what resilient factors are present that lift some Maori families out of poverty.
The development of a Maori discourse around poverty is important because we need to be the masters of our own destiny. At the moment our identity is influenced and defined by very depressing health and social profiles served up to us by government statisticians. Carla Houkamou’s research shows that as Maori we think about issues like poverty and wealth very differently to other cultures. We need to write our own profiles and re-frame our experience, we need to be in charge of the solutions. Only then can we be truly free.
Altruism was instilled in me from childhood. My parents were deeply concerned about issues like education, racism, and the status of Maori and Pasifika children. Teaching firstly in remote Maori schools, when we moved to Auckland they both had stints teaching in Ponsonby, during very different periods.
My father Pius taught at Beresford St Primary during the 1970s, when inner city suburbs were the domains of brown families. Arapera taught there at the start of the second millennium. Ponsonby had become gentrified and Beresford St Primary swallowed up by Auckland Girls Grammar (AGGS). Arapera taught English and te reo Maori at AGGS and was affectionately known as ‘Ma Blank’ to the Maori students.
My parents had the same high educational expectations of their students as they did of their own children. We were all expected to achieve to the best of our ability and transition onto tertiary study.
I was a fat dark baby.
The matron at Rawene Hospital told Pius he was father to a rugby player.
Following my parents’ career path was never an option. Being good at English I fancied myself as a journalist. Social Work was another option. I liked the radicalism associated with it, influenced as I was by two outspoken parents.
I started as a youth worker in West Auckland when I was 20. I wasn’t street-wise and the young people ran rings around me. They drove into my car and knifed my tyres. It gave me the experience I needed, however, to nail a job with Social Welfare. I was 23 and living in Dannevirke when I started as a social worker. I would work for Social Welfare, which morphed into Child, Youth and Family (CYF) for the next thirteen years.
Over 50% of CYF clients were Maori, a figure that has remained largely unchanged. I worked in Maori teams in South, West and Central Auckland. I saw terrible things. Shaken babies, sexual abuse, children beaten senseless, adolescent girls up on murder charges. An Otara teenager I sent to camp tried to cut his foreskin off with a knife. CYF is a conveyor belt of damaged Maori children and young people, relentless and desperately sad.
Swiss sculptor Giacometti was preoccupied with the absurdity of the human form and experience.
A picture of 'Man Pointing' hangs in my lounge.
For the last 20 years my work has been a blend of an old (social work) and a new career (public relations and communications). I have tried to explore other areas of work but I am always drawn back to Maori issues.
When Nia Glassie died I proposed to my uncle, Dr Hone Kaa, that we convene a hui of Maori to develop a plan to eliminate Maori child abuse. The hui took place over two days during November 2007 and gave birth to the organisation Mana Ririki, which I lead until the end of last year. We occupied the media space persistently, drawing attention to the plight of Maori children and young people, advocating kaupapa Maori solutions. The media is our new marae, the place where issues are debated and resolved.
60% of New Zealand children living in poverty are Maori and Pasifika, and in ten years these two groups will constitute 40% of all New Zealand children. The tyranny of democracy demands that we talk about child poverty as shared, everyone’s problem, no one group deserving more attention than another. Looking at the data, this is an absurd approach.
Working independently now, my partners are of a similar disposition to me. Middle-aged, educated and freethinking, we are concerned with the disproportionate spread of poverty. As Maori and Pasifika populations swell, the need for action becomes more urgent. Evidence for the development of solutions, which support linguistic and cultural development, is clear. Diversity within these groups is increasing though, so solutions must also be multiple. A cookie cutter approach will not work.
If we get it right for Maori and Pasifika, we will be better equipped to deal with the complexities of an increasingly ethnically diverse Aotearoa. When I travel to Europe I am very aware of an international hyper-diversity, but it is here also.
American punk rocker and pop artist Niagara visited Auckland in 2007.
I bought her piece 'Run' to celebrate the success of the Maori Child Abuse Summit.
She is cool and detached. She has no nose.
A selfie of my parents
My parents had their honeymoon at Kennedy’s Bay, Coromandel in 1958. My father Pius Blank emigrated to New Zealand from Switzerland in 1952. Pius was a photographer and most of our family photographs were selfies, taken with a Rolleiflex camera on a timer.
Pius was fascinated by Maori culture and photographed Maori life during the fifties and sixties. He enlarged the images to poster size and mounted them on soft board. My sister Marino and I grew up around these images, which included nudes of our mother Arapera. The third child of thirteen, Arapera was a Kaa from Ngati Porou; a writer and teacher. The nude photographs are an extraordinary statement about the woman. Raised in the tiny settlement of Rangitukia, and from a deeply religious family, she was avant-garde, very open to the new cultural influences of her foreign husband.
I love this picture of my parents. It is a joyful thing.
Pius and Arapera came from devout families, Catholic and Anglican respectively. Pius was quite damaged by a Dickensian upbringing devoid of affection, punctuated by physical abuse from the nuns and priests who taught him. Arapera’s faith was less troubled, her spirituality more obviously present. They were both liberals however. They wanted their children to make up their own minds about their spirituality. My sister and I didn’t attend religious instruction with the other kids at our primary school in the Hokianga. Instead we were taken to the headmaster’s house for a salad lunch.
Later, as teenagers, we joined the local Baptist Church and became born-again Christians. This was a troubling time for our family, the church was a wedge between us and our parents. Spirituality is an abstract concept for me now, but also very central to my sense of wellbeing. Because my childhood was essentially free of cultural and religious doctrine, my mind is also free, open to new ideas. There is nothing telling me I can’t do things or behave in certain ways.
I will be forever grateful to my parents for this aspect of my childhood.
Our house was on Dakota Avenue in Beach Haven on Auckland’s North Shore. Little more than a seaside bach when we first moved there, it grew and grew over the years. Pius was obsessed with building, renovations and making furniture. As he became more reclusive, his creations became odder, so too the house.
Our home was lined with wood panelling, it was dark – womb-like. One of my favourite memories of my mother is from my teenage years. There has been a power cut. I come home to find Arapera sitting on a beanbag in the lounge smoking a cigarette, staring peacefully into Te Po.
Later, Pius purchased an adjoining section and after Marino and I had left home, he built a small octagonal Lockwood house for himself and Arapera. At 60, Arapera had a stroke and collapsed on the deck at the front of the house. The stroke left her severely disabled. Ten years later, she was trapped inside when the house caught fire. Even though she survived the fire, she lived for only three days afterwards.
Now that both my parents have died, we have sold the Beach Haven property. My memories and emotions are mixed. Sometimes when I think about Pius and Arapera, their lives as a totality, and the brutality of my mother’s death, the pain is indescribable. Hot salty tears fill my eyes and grief manifests physically as sharp stabs to my heart.
Paris is so full of tourists, it’s annoying. Apart from that it is surprisingly difficult to find any decent shops. The Champs Elysees is full of chain stores and fast-food. Save your energy for London shoppers, everything you need is at Selfridges. There’s a cool food hall where you can have a coffee and check your budget.
I haven’t been to Switzerland for twenty years and it feels like home, even on a whistle-stop. It is autumn, the forests are gold and lavender. When I’m out running I see squirrels. I am ecstatic with the whole experience.
Right now I am listening to Kendrick Lamar. My favourite line from his new album – ‘the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’.