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Interview: Kelcy Taratoa talks about Kelcy Taratoa: Who Am I?


Artist Kelcy Taratoa (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Raukawa) talks to NZ Booklovers about Kelcy Taratoa: Who Am I? Episode 001.


Tell us a little about Kelcy Taratoa: Who Am I?, both the book and the exhibition.

Kelcy Taratoa: Who Am I? Episode 001 was hosted by Tauranga Art Gallery Toi Tauranga in 2019. The exhibition brought together artworks spanning two decades for a survey mid-career retrospective (25 October 2019 – 30 May 2020), and included a commission of x3 7-metre high paintings directly on the atrium walls based on tukutuku panels, titled Te Kore, Te Wiwia! The Space without boundaries. The selected works draw from public and private collections throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and internationally, curated from various bodies of work addressing key themes from my practice. This publication and education resource serves to share a long-lasting dialogue beyond the exhibition period.

What inspired you to create this artwork and book?

Inspiration for all my work comes from a personal belief in the role of the artist as a political, cultural and social commentator - responding to issues, events, and tensions defining their time through creative responses. The artworks become delineations, visual records of occurrences. The artworks confront the viewer with these moments, suspending them temporarily and engaging them in a dialogue with the artwork to explore multiple viewpoints and cultural perspectives. This is for the most part a desire to engage audiences in the ideas underpinning bodies of work of 2 decades, and to serve as an educational resource providing insight into a artists creative practice.


Your work deals with cultural identity in twenty-first century Aotearoa New Zealand and tackles important themes, including links between history, media, social conditioning and identity construction, surveillance and privacy, nuclear and environmental threat. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

To answer this question, I refer to an Instagram post I made during the first COVID Level 4 lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealand in response to the developing global pandemic. The reflection speaks to how we as artists respond to circumstances, and or anticipate possible future events based on an interpretation of information accessible at the time. In 2010 I painted the first of an on ongoing series of works. Disappearing, 2010 (Collection of David Teplitzky and Peggy Scott) - a series of mask-wearing crowds, State law enforcement troopers and I prominent female subject...


“...When I painted this work some 10 years ago, I was, like many people anticipating a time of global crisis, it seemed inevitable given our global issues, a deteriorating environment, hostilities between nations, and an increasing climate of surveillance technologies and controls to address the accelerating threat of terrorism, to name a few. Now finding myself in the midst of a COVID 19 lockdown, isolated from family, friends, work colleagues and my studio also, it feels surreal to be living in the time of a crisis that seemed further away when I painted it. I had no real sense that I was in effect painting my immediate future. At the forefront of this painting is a woman, the Anomaly, the hope, conscious and striding forward. This figure seems very appropriate given the decisive and steady leadership our Prime Minister @jacindaarden has displayed. Some call the current crisis a war. At the forefront of this war, placing themselves in harm’s way, working in the essential services are those working to keep supermarkets supplied with essential goods, stocking shelves, and serving at the checkout. The same sacrifice and service is demonstrated across all of the essential services. I am thankful for these people. I wonder what is to come from this crisis… change I hope.” @kelcytaratoa Instagram post, Sunday 29 March 2020


If a soundtrack was made to accompany your artwork, name a song or two you would include at the exhibition.

Quantic, 'Infinite Regression'; + Gill Scott-Heron, 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised'; + Troy Kingi 'Mighty Invader'.


What did you enjoy the most about creating this book and the artwork that is included within?

The book represents a milestone moment for me. I am very grateful to author, Dr Warren Feeney, Alice Hutchison, gallery director (at the time) and editor for the publication, and Hēni Jacob, Māori translator for working on this book. I enjoyed working with all 3 of these professionals. I have had a lot to do with Dr Feeney, he interviewed me over a series of 3 days and we have remained in regular dialogue with the book's development since. Of course making art is my life, not a job as such, I do it both for the enjoyment, but also to satisfy an innate drive to engage in the world through visual creations that I feel very much at the mercy of.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I am yet to celebrate. I anticipate my wife and I will look to travel to Vietnam when the borders reopen again, its our happy place.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

+ Māori Philosophy: Indigenous Thinking from Aotearoa, 2021, by Georgina Tuari Stewart. I have a genuine interest in World philosophy and what distinguishes it from Global philosophy. I work with both in the creation of my artworks. Georgina's book is timely because she demonstrates how Māori Philosophy was and continues to be misinterpreted and dismissed in favour of Euro-American philosophy, which arrives at the greater part of meaning and knowledge through modern science. For me, Stewart clearly articulates what defines Māori philosophy and what differentiates it from Global philosophy, which in short is a difference in the construction of spatial and temporal reality - because time and space in Māori philosophy are unified.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

My priority focus is a solo exhibition at Melanie Roger Gallery of new works, in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, February 2022. I also have a few design projects, and smaller painting projects this year. I teach part-time at Toi-Ohomai Institute of Technology on the Bachelor of Creative Industries which keeps me busy too.


Quentin Wilson Publishing