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Exhibition of powerful wāhine Māori stories to travel around Aotearoa

For Janice Wharepapa sharing the raw story of her life in an emotional exhibition was a like a concrete block being lifted off her shoulders.

She now hopes the multimedia exhibition of portraits of wāhine Māori which launched in Nelson last year can raise enough money to tour New Zealand.

“I wish for other wāhine to get out and tell their stories.”

French artist Loren Pasquier spent two years developing the multimedia exhibition Wāhine, which features photographic portraits of wāhine Māori (Māori women) as well as 12-minute “audio portraits” made up of interviews and daily recordings from the women’s lives.

BRADEN FASTIER / STUFF French artist Loren Pasquier spent two years developing the multimedia exhibition Wāhine, which features photographic portraits of Māori women as well as 12-minute “audio portraits".

“[The interviews] go really in-depth into her experience as wāhine Māori, from childhood, growing up, becoming a woman, becoming a mother – she gets the lead to talk about what matters to her.”

Pasquier said the project aimed to break down barriers between men and women, and between Māori and Pākehā.

“When I came here [to New Zealand] ... I had a fresh eye. It became quite tangible, the trauma and divide between Pākehā and Māori. I wondered if there was anything I could do.

“I believe as Pākehā we have a role to play when it comes to decolonisation and shifting mentalities - what we need to do is give space, to listen, respect and honour Māoridom.”

The project was initially meant to be a one-off, featuring four wāhine Māori from Nelson – Joy Shorrock, Jahreece Hedley, Cindy Batt and Batt’s mother Janice Wharepapa. It ran for a week in Nelson after an opening pōwhiri at Whakatū Marae.

Pasquier said the reaction to the first exhibition “encouraged [her] to keep this kaupapa going”.

“Just witnessing the impact it had on the community, seeing how people engaged, their compassion [for the women].”

She said she thought seriously about whether she could take the project further, and ultimately decided she would continue and expand it. The next exhibition was in Golden Bay, and added Mohua wāhine Mairangi Reiher.

This is the model Pasquier wants to take around New Zealand – adding wāhine from each of the 12 cities and towns she tours.

She is currently fundraising for the tour. She has raised about $16,000, but said the all-or-nothing campaign meant if she did not reach her $25,000 goal by June 11 she would not receive any of the money. Donations can be made online here.

Wharepapa, of Te Atiawa, said she hoped Pasquier was successful in her fundraising campaign, because “there are others out there who have gone through the same thing”.

She said she shared her story of an abusive childhood which she said “damaged [her] for life” with Pasquier after a lifetime of keeping it quiet.

She told Pasquier she didn't want anything cut from her story. “It’s straight and it’s raw. You might not like it, but it is what happened.”

She said since the exhibition in Richmond Library she had been approached by people who had attended.

“They come up to me and say; ‘Are you the woman who was in [the exhibit at] the library? Oh, you made me cry’.”

Wharepapa and her brother were removed from their father at a young age, after social welfare found out he, a single dad, had been leaving the children at home unsupervised. She said she and her brother were taken away from the family home while her father was away, and placed with a Pākehā family who “only used us for money”.

What followed were years of neglect and severe abuse.

“The people we were left with were cruel. Really cruel.”

Wharepapa said she and her brother were made to sleep outside in a tent with thin blankets and whatever sack-cloth they could salvage from old dog food packaging and were frequently beaten with a belt.

They were also subjected to rape and sexual assault.

“It was something I would never ever want any children to go through ... it was unforgivable.”

Wharepapa said she knew there were others with similar experiences, and others still living through abuse, and she hoped sharing her story would help.

“I know there are a lot of women out there that would like to tell their story. It makes a big difference. It’s like a big concrete block lifted off your shoulders.”

Cultural Conversations is hosting two 45 minute fundraising concerts in Nelson this Thursday to help make up the difference, asking for donations of $15 or more.

Wāhine will be exhibited in Tūranga Library in Christchurch on July 3 after a pōwhiri at 11am. The tour will visit Dunedin, Invercargill, Nelson, and eight locations in the North Island. More information can be found, including the audio portraits, at the Wāhine project website

Source: Skara Bohny17:19, Jun 02 2021, Stuff



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