When NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters called for the 80,000 New Zealanders travelling overseas to return to Aotearoa before the covid-19 pandemic showed just how deadly it would become, Rhaiah Spooner Knight had to watch, from Orange County Los Angeles. As the US clocked the world’s highest death toll for the virus, thousands of Kiwis transitioned through the two-week stand down process to get home, but Rhaiah had to stay in LA because of the criteria’s outlined in her work visa.
Attending Utah University in 2013 for a basketball scholarship, she said that even as a 10-year-old growing up in Hamilton, she always knew she would go to America and play college basketball. “There’s something about American culture Kiwis get drawn to,” she said. Rhaiah is one of 58,000 Kiwis who are registered to be living and working in the USA.
Meeting her boyfriend Donte Williams during her first year at college, or university as they say on this side, one can’t help but recall a movie directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood ( Love & Basketball, Disappearing Acts, The Secret Life of Bees). When they met, Donte had already begun their clothing label: ‘Work Hard Live Easy’. But Rhaiah, carrying her Hamilton roots with her to LA, was noticed for her flare with design and knack for putting an outfit together.
The baller/artist says fashion is something she’s always used to define her personality and identity. Interestingly, since being in Los Angeles (a thrift shopper’s mecca) she said she’s observed that Kiwis are more fashion forward then you’d think. “I feel we’re actually ahead in a lot of things.
“Obviously there are a lot of Americans that are very fashion forward, take the New York scene, they’re really fashion forward, but I feel like New Zealand has a general consensus, which is that everyone can dress. In NZ we’ll jump onto trends way quicker than Americans will,” she said.
Since graduating university in 2018, Rhaiah has been working as an independent freelance artist for herself and a creative director for WHLE, she also picked up a second job working at a Nike retail store.
She says being led by Trump at this stage is pretty upsetting: “When you have to bear witness to someone who gladly disregards most of the minority groups in the United States and their welfare with ease – it really puts into perspective how corrupt and selfish the leader of this country is. “It still blows my mind he’s even still in office – and most likely will be for another four years. She says “It’s hard not being able to legally vote and feel like I can help in that sense – I obviously use my voice in other ways to project my feelings about the current president – mostly through my art – but I still feel a way that I can’t vote.”
Art Series: WAYS WORLD
“In continuation from my ‘Ways World’ digital art series I have recently extended and continued it into what will now be six new art pieces. One of the most recent artworks from this series has a poster in the background saying “f*ck Trump. I loved putting that in there (haha).
“The Ways World series are all projects that are reflections of me, my thoughts, my experiences and expression of my aesthetic. So it was only fitting to include that poster in that piece. I love to share my political views through my art, and have done so in most of my paintings and I always make a point to use brown skinned or black skinned people in my work.
“Obviously I’m a brown woman myself, but I’m also making a political statement that touches on the ideas that we as minority groups are beautiful, need to be celebrated more and shown more in art, music, on TV, in the news, in books – just more mainstream!”
“To me is empowering, supporting, holding each other accountable and ultimately being your whole and complete self! No matter the stereotypes and the backlash that is put upon us solely due to the fact that we’re women. It’s even more important for me being a woman of color to continue to shine light on my other Poly, Maori and women of color because not only are we at a disadvantage being women, we’re even more disadvantaged not being white…
“Because of society we tend to dim our own light to make white women, or men feel comfortable around us and some of us forget the magic we’re born with by simply being us! That’s a huge reason why I dedicate my art to always represent us, because there simply isn’t enough of us in the mainstream areas!”
VAYNE – for instance I didn’t even know that she was from Hamilton. I had no idea and to know that, I feel like that is so dope to see. I’m playing her music and feel proud to see that and know she’s young too – I don’t even know if I can remember the last female rap artists from New Zealand – like actual rappers . To see her doing her thing is super crazy.
MEGAN THE STALLION- I don’t think it’s wrong for women to use their sexuality, you can do whatever you want as a female, but out of all the artists that do – I just relate to her more. When I was watching her interviews I thought ‘wow she was in college doing this?’
RICO NASTY – I relate to her on some levels which I think is why I’m so drawn to her. She is undeniably herself! She really doesn’t give a f**k what anyone thinks of her, wears what she wants, says what she wants – doesn’t always use her body as a selling point in her music, and she really created her own lane by merging rock and hip hop together in the dopest way possible (haha).
BEYONCE – I think that’s pretty self-explanatory! (lol) she’s a pioneer, she’s the queen, and a great all around role model for every female to look up to!
SZA – A lot of my early artwork from two years ago was very reminiscent of the CTRL album – and the vibes and moods I experienced while listening to her album. SZA appeals to my spiritual and chill side of myself – whenever I listen to her music I feel creative, in tune with my feelings, and overall a badass sensitive b**ch (hahaha) I love it lol! and lastly,
PARRIS GOEBEL – Now I think I speak to every female back home in NZ when I say she’s really the GOAT. Watching her journey and seeing her grind over the years, seeing her take NZ to a whole other level is crazy! Seriously something I aspire to do with my art. She really put NZ on the map in the dance world and is only going to continue to break barriers for us Maori and Poly girls!
WORKING WITH DONTE
Michelle Obama said “”Marry your equal. My husband is my teammate and I don’t want no weak players on my team”. For Serum, it was important to add this section, and acknowledge Rhaiah as a young woman who is ticking all the boxes we generally deem to represent success in life: A graduate, employment, a creative guru with a relationship and a home. As manawahine, or strong woman (in English), when it comes to her relationship and work she says working with her boyfriend and being brought onto WHLE, in the beginning was about learning to work with your partner in life and business:
“The best part about working so close to your partner is being able to bounce ideas off each other, push each other and collaborate constantly! It’s dope finding someone who really pushes your ideas and sees a bigger vision for your personal art more than yourself at the time you know? He’ll bring up possible lanes I should get into with my art that I hadn’t considered yet. So that’s super dope to me and to be honest more valuable than anything materialistic he could ever buy me.”
“It’s hard to find someone who is on your same wavelength in terms of ambition and drive… so It’s been a journey being able to come together and add to each other’s individual projects and then coming together and collaborating on our joint projects! These for sure are the best parts about it!
We challenge each other a lot when it comes to both of us creating – he’s an Aries and I’m a Sagittarius (lol) so we can get pretty fiery – but it always ends up birthing something so good. We will sit back after a few back and forth and a few “Fine ok, that does look cool” , but then we look at the final product and say ‘Damn ok, we definitely did something dope here!‘ (Haha.)
“It’s been a challenge” she said, but “worth it”.
Rhaia’s works are available for purchase on her website: www.waysart.com