Accepted Paper:

The Artist as Ethnographer? Contemporary indigenous artwork-interventions from New Zealand in ethnographic perspective  


Elizabeth Cory-Pearce

Paper short abstract:

This paper compares recent indigenous photo-based artworks that draw on colonial photographs with the understandings I have gained from long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the Rotorua region of New Zealand about the relationship between Te Arawa Maori and the colonial camera.

Paper long abstract:

Where colonial photography of indigenous peoples is negatively objectifying, it makes sense that artists' interventions seek to critically reclaim such representations of their forebears. However, in the Rotorua region of New Zealand, Te Arawa Maori collect and display large numbers of colonial photographs for personal and ritual use, and do not on the whole consider this material to be degrading. In fact many images are highly personalised and their frequent familial and ritual use suggests they are aesthetically satisfying. Colonial imagery of Te Arawa - which has been both commercially (in Rotorua's tourism industry) and spiritually (in Maori funerals and other ceremonies) significant since its inception - does not in this sense need to be 'critically reclaimed'. In fact critical interventions may, inadvertently, silence or at least side-line other accounts. The Rotorua region is distinguished by geothermal activity and, from the onset of colonialism, this stimulated economic and touristic interest. Maori were quick to develop tourism-related industries and photography played a key role in maintaining a foothold in them, especially when geothermal lands were removed from Maori ownership on a large scale. My research explores the particular nature of the relationship between Maori subjects, Maori audiences and the camera here. I highlight divergences between critical re-appropriations in recent indigenous artwork and local perceptions and uses of colonial photography. My insights combine data derived from long-term fieldwork with research on archival material and my paper stresses the importance of combining these two approaches.

Panel P20
Indigenous Interventions: Contemporary Photo-based Art and the Anthropological Archive