Pākehā (body in between) identity : an offering to decolonial discourse, through embodied performance in the landscape : an exegesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirement of the post graduate degree of Master of Fine Arts, Massey University, Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
My thesis project moves through discussions of my Pākehā identity and relationship to whiteness and the whenua in the context of Aotearoa. Both my thesis writing and performance are presented as an autobiographical practice. This work is a personal exploration of being Pākehā with a critical acknowledgement of the relationship and separation from Māori and mātauranga. My mahi explores revisiting my lived experiences as a way to self-reflect and better situate my body in the political, cultural, and social context of being Pākehā. This embodied method in my interrelated performance, video, and literary practices has allowed me to better understand multiplicities and nuances of identity. This project is of my body and therapeutic for my body, therefore I have used a storytelling literary style, as this reflects the personal context of my work. My performance work shares my identity as a white body, Pākehā body, Tangata Tiriti, and a woman, in contrast and in conversation with the landscape, exploring narratives of ‘location’ ‘disconnection’ ‘unsettling’ ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’. I use the subjectivity of my body in both my performance and literary practice, as a way to lay a foundation to host investigation into the seemingly invisible systemic network that is whiteness. This exegesis feels to me to be a living performative document of its own, learning as I am doing and moving through research. This year the work I have made, and the kōrero I have had with my whānau, has been the most important in relation to situating my Pākehā identity, to then help other Pākehā understand their own through my disseminated work. I remember the beginning of this process; I was so uptight and worried about appropriating from Māori in my initial experiments involving ecofeminism and paganism that I didn’t acknowledge indigeneity in the landscape. This work kept leading to my unavoidable relationship to te ao Māori in the context of Aotearoa and the whenua on which I was making my performance work. In the process of my journey to locate myself in the land, the understanding of being Pākehā became more than a small acknowledgement but central to having a performative practice that works in the landscape of Aotearoa and politics of New Zealand. Researching my Pākehā identity isn't just a place I will visit, but a place where I can belong. I believe sharing these stories, performance works and learnings of my life before now ‘from my well’ are intrinsic to how I have navigated a Pākehā experience, and to understanding how I can contribute to undoing systems older and more powerful than the blind ignorance of a large part of Pākehā culture. Alongside this, actively listening to the experiences of Māori has been fundamental for enriching my understanding of the realities of Aotearoa, my reality included. As Alison Jones articulates: “If Pākehā people exist in terms of our relationship with Māori, then we have to be able to think with a Māori-informed point of view.” (Jones.190) I have the honour of sharing with my friends their kōrero about their own journeys of decolonisation. This is why an autobiographical way of writing is important as it continues the language of storytelling, listening and sharing of stories with my whānau. In my experience, stories can travel further and become more accessible in the way they expose concepts like white supremacy or privilege. Storytelling through lived experience intertwines the theory with an embodied reality. I am not claiming that my lived reality is the only reality or a right or wrong one, but I hope that it can be a starting point for more dialogue, critique, and broader shared realities. Storytelling is an indigenous way of sharing knowledge through generations and the way that knowledge has survived and resisted colonial erasure. Kōrero pūrākau and indigenous auto-ethnography connects people to history and places them in reality. Linda Tuhiwai Smith writes that: For many indigenous writers stories are ways of passing down the beliefs and values of a culture in the hope that the new generations will treasure them and pass the story down further. The story and the storyteller both serve to connect the past with the future, one generation with the other, the land with the people and the people with the story. (Smith,144-145) As a Pākehā, I have seen my connection between past and future, generational knowledge, and stories to be dishonest, harmful, or intentionally absent from Pākehā culture. Alison Jones explains that “Pākehā insistence on ‘forgetting the past’ becomes possible only if we believe the past is lost behind us, out of sight and gone.” (Jones.170) This sense of absence has shaped a large part of my journey through my art practice, research, and identity. Thankfully in our whare Jayden and Tūī keep reminding me of the whakatauki ‘ka mua ka muri’, ‘walking backwards into the future’. This humbles me enough to see that I am not as alone as I may feel, there is history and stories waiting to be made visible as I move forward with my art practice and understanding my identity, it will just take time. I have started this journey, both looking back from my past, and into the present to where I am now, in my body.
Figures are re-used with permission.