Author: Tayi Tibble on Poūkahangatus & decolonising the mind

Culture, Interview

22-year-old Tayi Tibble has recently graduated her masters and published her first poetry book titled Poūkahangatus. It featured at number one twice on the Unity Books bestselling list and was the first book of poetry to claim the number-one spot since Hera Lindsay Bird in 2016. It was reviewed by Jenna Todd for the Spinoff Papercuts Podcast: as havinga freshness, a naughtiness, and an incredible cover”.

Fresh and naughty with incredible ‘covers’ are themes brown girls are universally loved and recognised for. Being a scholar and unapologetic poet published straight out of uni sets this brown girl apart. I knew Tibble and I would get on because she goes by ‘Paniaofthekeef’ on Instagram. I knew because she went to Aotea College near where I grew up in Wellington and because she came to our interview in brand new Fila sneakers with a platform that made her outfit just drip [LIKE].
“I’m like a gangsta bitch but I remember being a teenager and being real shame about that like dressing real twee,” she says. We talk about being unapologetically who you are in 2018 and what decolonising the mind means to her as well as what being an urban Māori means today. We talk about how much harder women of colour have worked to get into positions of significant power and how important it is to keep pushing that kaupapa so our daughters and sons can dream a bit bigger, aim a bit higher and feel a sense that achieving those dreams are possible for them too.
For Tibble leading by such a high example is a pressure and a privilege – and a platform she’s intent on growing. “People will often ask me ‘Oh how do you feel about being a Māori writer?’ in reference to the fact that Pākehā people don’t get called ‘Pākehā writers.’ I’ve also encountered other Māori writers rejecting that label, saying that they aren’t or can’t be ‘a Māori writer.’ They’re just a writer like everyone else and I get that but…. I don’t really fuck with that. I’m a Māori writer. In my mind that’s undeniable and inescapable, and it’s important that I embrace that.

SERUM: So you embrace the responsibility?
TAYI: I have to. Cause I can see the detriments of not doing it, the detriment of not having role models, or people to walk the path before you and guide so….so yeah you have to there’s too much on the line. Too much too lose – but so much to gain too.

SERUM: Do you feel there is progress happening in New Zealand in 2018?
TAYI: Yeah I do. You have to believe right, in order for it to be realised. I think more and more people are becoming aware of inequalities and have the right intentions at heart. I think most people want a better and fairer more creative New Zealand. But I also think we could be further along. ..Okay I’ll tell you my Don Brash story. So I was at Hamilton Press Club. I was there because Vincent O’Malley, he’s a Pākehā historian and a really cool guy – he’s doing a campaign to teach Waikato wars in schools – so he gave an address about that and I was like sweet, sweet, thinking we’re just going to have a fancy lunch and free wine, but then the floor was opened up to Don Brash to reply, and he starts popping off as per usual saying things like Waikato wars? What about Māori on Māori crimes? [Laughs] Just being Don Brash. The thing with Don Brash though – is that I feel sorry for him, because he can’t imagine a different New Zealand. He can’t imagine anything outside of anything he knows or what he thinks he knows. I honestly just think that everyone needs to take some time and just imagine what New Zealand could be like. One of my fav quotes is from Lana Del Rey – I don’t think it’s from her but she said it and it’s: ‘Life imitates art’ which is why we need to put more positive brown art out, and then society’s attitudes will follow – we have to be able to imagine a better New Zealand. Which is why it’s so important to have brown people leading the discussions, curating the art, directing the festivals and writing the media. See I’ve done interviews before where I just feel myself clam up because I get the feeling that the interviewer is not really listening to me, they’re listening for something and it’s that extraction, exploitation even, that’s actually real dangerous and uncool. If you want to talk to me about my work you have to meet me at my level. Like this conversation we are having now is really cool, like you get it and so I can talk openly about this sort of stuff without feeling like I’m educating or protesting.

IMG_4949

Tayi Tibble. Photo by Ebony Lamb.

SERUM: For me I just don’t want this to be a phase where people of colour stories were trending between 2015 to 2020 like I think it’s important to keep pushing for that.
TAYI: Yeah…I worry about that too. Like in my own situation, with winning The Adam Foundation Prize and with the release of my book, lots of literary people and literary communities have been hyping me up. Of course because the work is good, but also I think people get behind me because I’m young and brown and cool, which I definitely appreciate, and everyone should definitely be supporting young brown artists and writers, but at times I do feel weary of the attention I get from predominantly white institutions. I don’t want to get played out, I listen to ‘Crop That Back’ by Coco Solid everyday, because this writing and arts administration gig is actually what I want to do, and I take it seriously. Which is why brown women need to get into positions of power so we are helping people get up, leaving the doors open behind us, protecting ourselves, our stories, history, trauma and writing our own narratives. Ensuring that those narratives are either healing, validating, or aspirational.

Poūkahangatus was written over the course of her last year of studying, as an academic and self professed nerd she says she has always loved history and stories of World War II.
TAYI: I like World War II stories – my Granddad was a Dutchman who came to New Zealand escaping the war and my Nana was a beautiful East Coast wahine who had to send her brother, cousins, lovers off to war after they joined the 28th Māori Battalion. After the war, she moved here after to Wellington. I grew up listening to, and loving all of these stories about the war, the sacrifice the adventures. Lot’s of soldiers who enlisted went because it would be an adventure, for most of them, the only way they would be able to see the world. And there’s heaps of Māori in Italy, like Florence – heaps of the Italians fuck with Māori hard cause of the war, that interconnected history. Māori soldiers fell in love with Italian women. It’s crazy to think about how the war dispersed us and where all the lasting presences of Māori really are…

SERUM: I wish we got taught these things more man.
TAYI: Yeah you don’t get taught that, you don’t get taught shit. I feel like brown woman in particular are carriers of knowledge like that, but we have to make an extra effort to educate ourselves amongst all these Pākehā-biased narratives.

SERUM: Yeah I just caught the end of a National Radio interview with Jacinda Ardern talking about repatriation of soldiers from Malaysia only happening now.
TAYI: That’s like a big thing in Māori tikanga – bringing your body home to your family, to your tūrangawaewae – that’s one of the saddest thing about the war is that bodies can’t go back to their family.

SERUM: What do you think it is about Poūkahangatus that people love and want to have more of?
TAYI: Just the politics in it – the cultural elements and identity elements. It’s fresh, and it’s prioritising and giving value to an urban, brown existence and experience. For example it references, Kim Kardashian, The Pussycat Dolls, Aaliyah, Rihanna, where one might, I dunno Pākehā writers like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen right? The thing that I have noticed is that the brown girls who read it get it, so they don’t have to pry or ask too much about it – they’re happy to have it exist and they can relate to it, how it is on the page. Pākehā people on the other hand are really really curious. I’m glad they’re interested and want to know about it and can see it’s value, but I also get the feeling that it’s possibly their first time coming into contact with Māori literature, or these kinds of Māori stories.

SERUM: Which is…
TAYI: Fucked….but it is what it is I guess. I don’t think I’m doing anything super unique.

SERUM: But then you are… It’s cool that this has been created for younger brown girls to look to and connect with you know?
TAYI: Yeah I think that’s something that Pākehā really underestimate is how underrepresented people of colour actually are. Underrepresented or misrepresented and it’s erasure, and that’s a tool and violence of colonialism, cultural erasure, being black marked, or smudged out. I think that’s a large part of what my book is about, representation. You have to be able to see yourself in media and literature, and if you don’t you’ll relate to whatever role models or things you’ll see on the television who look like you, and they might not always be healthy ones. Like growing up I was like ‘I’m Jade The Bratz Doll!’ and ‘I’m Nicole Scherzinger!’ cos they looked like me the most, and that’s why I’m a crazy big lipped bitch now. I just think it’s really violent to not be represented and I don’t think Pākehā can’t even comprehend this because they just see themselves all the time. I’ve discovered in literature, this little weird attitude that some people have that, almost looks down on people who write from their own lives, cos writers should use their “imagination” or something like that, but again, I think that attitude is situated in a position of privilege. The privilege of having always had every multifaceted aspect of their existence validated in books, films, on screen, whereas people of colour are still having to legitimize their existence across a range of platforms, just to be able to live.
But yeah the best part about this whole experience and having my book published is all the messages and support I get from brown woman. When I get them I’m like yes, this is what this is all for! They give me the most validation and encouragement than I get from anywhere. I read those messages and I think, this is all I need, I don’t need awards or fellowships, or widespread media, just community and connection…. But then I have this secondary thought which is if all these girls were in the positions of power and influence, the curators, the directors, the editors, the publishers, then I’d be totally set lol!

Poukahanganatus

Poūkahangatus featured at number one twice on the Unity Books bestselling list.

SERUM: So what does the term urban Māori mean for you?
TAYI: I think it’s about encompassing both the modern world and the Māori world, and accepting and being comfortable with the tensions that living in both these worlds produce. I was born and raised in Wellington, but I have always known that I was really from Te Araroa, Gisborne, Ngāti Porou, and Te Whānau-ā-Apanui.

Being Urban Māori is tied up with a lot of ideas about being disconnected, separated or disenfranchised. A lot of people read the book and imply that to me, but I just don’t really feel like that. I feel very millennial, logged in and high-maintenance whilst also feeling very Māori, compassionate and communal. They don’t have to clash at the the expense of one another. They can coincide and coexist, and Māori have been living proof of that for generations.

SERUM: I guess navigating that space…when you put all the labels aside we’re all still women, you know we got boobs we get our period, for you as a woman, how do you navigate that balance to allow the two to coexist?
TAYI: Well I certainly haven’t always felt comfortable about my identity as a person of colour or as a woman. I definitely had to go through all that dumb shit like wanting to be white and acting white because I grew up in a lot of white spaces, or feeling like I had very little agency over my body, but a whole lot of shame about it. I guess for me my cultural identity and my identity as a woman are completely entwined because my role models have been my Mum and my maternal line. I feel like I only recently was able to embrace myself as a woman when I embraced my mana wahine, and that’s what makes me feel really sexy, feminine and empowered. But identity of course is fluid and a constant journey. But I’m still on a personal journey of decolonising my mind. I didn’t grow up with strong ties to my marae, I’m half caste, I’ve had to teach myself about myself.

SERUM: Some people don’t like that word aye..I guess it is old school
TAYI: It is! It’s awful and dehumanising to split a person into fractions! When I think of that word, I get an image in my head of being split and split again to the point where you just shimmer like glitter. But I feel like I’m still negotiating that word with myself, which I think as a mixed-race Māori, I have a right to. And it’s significant to me because I’m the half caste daughter, of a half caste daughter, who in turn was the half caste daughter of a Māori woman and a Pākehā man who moved to Wellington. So we’ve been here for generations. I’m four generations away from the time where my line lived on the Papakāinga. I didn’t grow up immersed in tikanga or te ao Māori but I was really lucky to have a biracial mum, who had already gone through life looking like she did and living in a white setting. So my mum really knew how to be a mum to me and help me navigate all of that. Her own Mum was really assimilated, Christian and submissive, as woman were during her time, and so she didn’t guide her or bring her up Māori. My mum made a very conscious effort to teach us what she could about our history and where we come from. The internet really helped with this! Another example of Māori and modernity coexisting beneficially. But my Mum, she’s really woke – my mum’s been woke before woke was a term.

SERUM: You see, that’s what I’m saying! Woke is a term but conscious women who have been through hardship and then ascended to a level of deeper understanding, have been here, for time.
TAYI: We’re woke because we have to be. It’s the only way we can exist in this world with dignity. It’s what really helped me come to terms with my identity; learning about our history, colonisation and piecing the puzzle together as to how we got here, and why certain things have happened..all effects of colonisation that are still very present and real. Once you notice them, it’s undeniable. And the longer we pretend that colonisation is in the past and not a real growing, shifting entity, the more affect it’s going to have. The only way we can decolonise or actually move on is confront it and talk about it, and have people of colour leading those conversations.
You can buy Poūkahangatus here.

Cover photo by Ebony Lamb.

Vanessa Umugabekazi – Tell her no, but this model will do it anyway

Culture, Threads

On Monday independent model and creative Vanessa Umugabekazi walked in the opening show for New Zealand Fashion Week 2018 – but she very easily might not have: it was only after she protested her right as an independent model to be able to attend castings.

Initially told she’d need an agent to be considered for official castings, she was firm she didn’t want one due to negative past experiences with them. When she did have one, she felt done with being told ‘You’re too short, you can only do commercial modelling, you won’t get booked’, add in extra issues with not being paid properly, she was determined to stand strong in her conviction – she wanted to represent herself. Being the thoughtful, creative writer she is too, she expressed her frustration of not being able to attend NZFW castings as an independent model on Instagram, despite having walked in NZFW before, this time she just didn’t have an agent. Her followers were shocked, in an age where the internet makes self-management logical, they themselves tagged @nzfashionwk in support of Vanessa.

Fashion Week replied:

“Hi Vanessa. Thank you for your reply. We appreciate your passion for casting as an independent model for NZ Fashion Week and will consider your request for next year’s event. As we’ve mentioned, you are welcome to approach designers directly and we wish you all the very best should you choose to do so. Kind regards the team at NZFW.”

Vanessa wrote back:

“We professional independent models don’t lack anything agency represented models do besides not being managed by someone else. We pay our taxes too. NZFW opening up their casting to professional independent models would be a big step in the NZ Fashion and modelling industry recognising and respecting the work of freelancers. I hope the opportunity is offered to us.”

Auckland based designer Turet Knuefermann caught wind of the post and called her in for a casting. A few hours after that she was booked. Knuefermann was the recipient of this year’s Mercedes-Benz Presents Award and officially opened the seven day event.

40259674_1013490892164373_4883270574513586176_n

“It’s funny now being able to model for certain brands or being in certain shows people thought you won’t be able to do – or being the first African girl in a certain show or competition – it’s cool to break all those barriers” – Vanessa Umugabekazi

The current pop culture market celebrates diversity, talks about inclusion and why representation matters. Hash tags like #blackgirlmagic show a global pride and hefty efforts worldwide to create a movement intent on reversing the narrative that fashion is for stick thin, 6ft out-of-this-world rare looking beast women of a lighter complexion. Because #staywoke #woc and online movements for young people of colour, the world of social media makes the terrain look different, but confusingly – social realities still feel the same. This makes modelling a tough place to be for a young woman of colour trying to navigate through castings especially when your face, skin and body is what you’re trading.

“Before I used to chemically straighten my hair and that was easy for hairdressers to deal with my hair at fashion shows or photo shoots then I decided I would go natural and rock my afro. I’d show up to photo shoots or runway shows and hairdressers would look absolutely shocked like what do I do with this – and then they’d just leave me and not do anything to my hair and I’d sit there and think what’s going on.”

“I feel like it’s so important to be more open and to say, ‘Hey, I’ve never worked with an afro before but this is the style we’re planning to do with your hair, could you show me how you would treat your hair?’ Or I’m gonna start and just let me know if I’m doing something wrong or it’s uncomfortable – something as easy as that but yeah, a lot of people are just shocked and just decide to leave it.”

When one steps out from behind the scenes the imagery of black women selling MAC, Gucci, Burgers, Puma, music, high heels, fizzy drinks is all over the world. It seems great – a perfect revolution where women of colour get to play too. It isn’t, quite, not yet. Identity is a big deal to women who tick the ‘other’ box on the census. It has been since they were born, certainly existing before it was trending. It feels like spiritual warfare and a task we all chip away at within our own realms. In Vanessa’s realm, she explores being a young woman of colour on her ‘other’ insta account @popcorngyal. If you scroll back far enough you’ll see that in October last year, she lost her younger sister Cynthia to cancer. Cynthia also modelled, they did it together, both walking in the same show for Wynn Hamlyn at NZFW 2016.

40137720_300927887383406_4855845219758768128_n

Photographer: Luke Foley-Martin @ NZFW 2016, Wynn Hamlyn

In her time Cynthia achieved a billboard in Auckland’s upmarket shopping hub Ponsonby for Lonely Lingerie and a published shoot in Vogue Italia. For Vanessa, a trip home to her motherland Rwanda seemed like the right thing to do in order to take a break and heal/replenish her soul.

“I went there with this mentality of I’m coming back home to my roots and I just wanted to feel like I’m at home, and I did feel like that, even though people would stare at me because of what I was wearing or my piercings or tattoos – it’s like they could tell I wasn’t raised there. It was cool because I realised why I do certain things the way I do them – like why I’m always late to everything!” She laughs, “But honestly back home it’s so relaxed like people don’t really watch time. Everything just happens as it does and it seems to just flow.”

Vanessa says growing up in New Zealand and going to school here was a beautiful experience; she had friends from all over the world and loved it. She noticed things like “I think Samoans say ‘Iesu’ for Jesus and in Swahili we say ‘Yesu’”.

She also experienced the same indigenous vs pakeha culture that debates whether you should look someone in the eye or not when speaking to them: “Things you do out of respect I’ve seen it in the Maori culture – they’re not allowed to look elders in the eye – same as us that’s rude. With Europeans if you don’t it’s like you’re being a bit dodgy.”

Then there’s the darker side of being an immigrant or in Vanessa’s case a refugee in New Zealand – being told to go back to your country. “That statement – it makes me laugh, it makes me angry – this universe, this earth is for all of us and when someone tells me to go back to my own country I’m like first of all this is my country – cause I’m human and I’m part of this earth – and I was raised here.”

“I don’t let people that say that get away with it easily – they have to be educated and they have to understand that’s not something that you should be throwing around loosely. Just because I’m a different shade to you or was born in a different country doesn’t mean that I don’t belong here – you don’t know my identity.”

Vanessa acknowledges there are extra tasks required as an independent model to book jobs, she’s dedicated to her career and hopeful New Zealand Fashion Week can open its doors to independent models at NZFW castings in the future.

*Follow Vanessa on Instagram

*Vanessa will also be walking in the NZFW 2018 Resene designer shows.

Cover photo by Photographer:

Will @ 35mmnz

MUA: Ruth Baron

Setup and blooms: Rose Rowan

TV: Claws – Multi-ethnic steel magnolia trash

Culture

Janine Sherman Barrois, one of the series writers for Claws – a great new TV series says creator Eliot Laurence, “told me he used to read the Florida Man [Twitter account], he’s seen all these cases of women who bit off their spouse or partner’s d— in Florida. And it inspired him to write about that area in that sort of Florida-noir, Elmore Leonard kind of quirky, dark humorous way.. that’s sort of where it all sort of evolved from.”

Claws is fucking hilarious, speaking about finally having a seat at the table in the interview below, the cast talk about being able to truly be themselves at work and the difference it made to producing quality for their audience. Desna, the protagonist is played by Niecy Nash, she explains they’re real women on set, not size 2, they DO eat on camera and have complicated relationships – despite many embarrassing truths and blood drawing challenges – the show is about women coming together and blends a diverse cast of women without it feeling forced.

 

One of the features of the show is the brilliant writing and the perfectly timed bursts of  humour amidst robbery, drugs, the Russian mafia and more – the other is the wardrobe by costume designer Dana Covarrubias. In an interview with toofab.com she said:

“I honestly don’t think there’s any other show on television that’s like this show and/or is representing the kind of women that are in this show… I would say in the first few fittings we were still trying to perfectly figure it out because we really didn’t want these characters to look and feel like cartoon characters or like we were poking fun at these people. There is obviously heavy tongue-and-cheek cheese factor to the show but as far as the costumes went, we wanted to have fun with them. We wanted them to be fun and crazy but we also wanted them to be real. That was the only challenge in the beginning; trying to figure out where that line is exactly.”

claws2.gif.e8fb5d57c70f76474b637b3c9d05f9b1.gif

The Claws team struck the balance so well. The woman are perfect in the way they balance their portrayal of real life woes and hood-rich glamour. One of the reasons I love a series is because it lets me tap out from real life and enjoy a fantasy story that has me guessing what will come next like Heroes, Empire, Scandal, Banshee or How to Get Away With Murder, this show had me wanting more too. In the YouTube interview above they advise up and coming actors to “learn your craft  and study because we are in a microwave generation and everything is shorter, quicker, faster”. 

Karrueche thanks her fellow cast for their support in her role as an actor just beginning her career. Her character Virginia is written into the show as an outcast who grew up with no family, she’s drawn to the love and support she sees the group giving each other and she works hard to get into the clique. The writing-in of her character shows an open minded and warm understanding of the real life dynamics between women. It’s like producers knew viewers wouldn’t want to give her a chance, so they wrote her in accordingly. She spends the first half of season one trying hard to make the others love her but ends up being the brat you expect.  Eventually you love her. But you hate her first.

26399_022_0077_r.jpg

It is currently up to season two, episode four on TVNZ On Demand and I haven’t laughed so hard and unexpectedly at any media, like from the gut, in a long time. Mainstream needs more content like this, more Outrageous Fortune, Baby Mama’s Club type-humor and reality.

The other feature of the series that caught me was Harold Perrineau who plays Desna’s autistic brother. Watching him juxtaposed among all the bright pastels when you’re used to seeing him play darker more serious characters like Mercutio in Baz Luhrmaan’s Romeo and Juliet or an action hero in The Matrix was perfect. Writer Eliot Laurence says he loves stories of female empowerment, sister hood and kick-ass women and that he was super influenced by they Florida noir literary writers like Carl Hiaasen.

Photo essay: Unwillingly mislead

Culture

Professionally cleaning a ‘contaminated house’ where meth is suspected to have been smoked costs about $17,000, then additional costs for refurbishing and loss of rent add up to over $40,000 says one landlord and owner affected by an ongoing government scheme that evicted predominantly lower income tenants and left them homeless. Some were banned from applying for public housing ever again.