17 June – 3 September 2017, Hastings City Art Gallery
To learn to trust children, we must first learn to trust ourselves – John Holt
I’m sitting in a cardboard box fort, set as square as it can be in the main foyer of the Hastings City Art Gallery. From the outside, the fort looks haphazard but from inside, a new perspective arises – it is safe, insulated, strong. A passer-by hears the shuffling of my papers on the overturned-box desk and peeks in through one of the many holes. When they discover me, our eyes meet and we both sparkle with giggles. From in here, this moment is enlarged, and we are engaged in each other, through the joy of curiosity and discovery.
This moment is where I feel most connected with the work of Edith Amituanai and the Kimi Ora Community School whānau. I have filled out the friendship book (first time I’ve done that since the 90s!), sat on the portrait stool, and smiled with the photographs. But here, in fort Kimi Ora, the experience manifests in giggles, then deepens. I come to realise that although children are brought into focus here, it is done with multifaceted depth, not pretense or novelty.
Hastings City Gallery’s first artist in residence, Amituanai’s project involved her spending five weeks at Kimi Ora Community School in Flaxmere. With a strong spirit of co-creation, she shared not only her photography knowledge, but her camera gear with the Kimi Ora students, their families and staff. The children, held fast to their commitment and vision, also helped to bring the exhibition and its opening function to fruition.
What is being actualised through the creative process here is the concept of whanaungatanga, the heartbeat of all South Pacific cultures. The sense of equality is breathtaking and brings a blurring of lines between artist and subject; so much so that one has to read the labels to determine which photographs are taken by Amituanai herself, and which by other photographers. This is so much more than just a glimpse, it is an engagement with the children of Kimi Ora, and the many faces of childhood portrayed in each beautiful image. #keeponkimiora brings to bear an interplay of perspectives and spaces, the intimacy and ease of shared contribution and the innate value of each child – their uniqueness, connectedness, and easy creativity.
The images themselves are filled with spirit and value, through the many vibrant Māori and Pasifika faces (and places) shown. I think about what it would have meant for me in my own childhood, to have seen, let alone created even one non-eroticised, non-exoticised image of fellow Pasifika or Māori for a gallery wall. It is the “no-need-to-explain” nature of #keeponkimiora that so effortlessly fulfills a very real and complex void; that of respectful representation.
As recently as last year, Flaxmere was dubbed “The Poor Suburb” in mainstream media. Yet through #keeponkimiora we see the richness of the lives lived behind and in spite of this demeaning label. There is an intimacy with this exhibition which, rather than feeling voyeuristic, is just as generous and open-hearted as the people behind the camera. There is a strong sense of the bond that exists between Amituanai and the Kimi Ora students. This is textured though, all at once simple, yet delicate. The Simple – let the children take photos. The Delicate – trust the children to capture the art of their own lives. The success here is Amituanai’s insight, through the intuitive bringing of her openness to interface so seamlessly with that of the children. It may indeed “take a village to raise a child” but through #keeponkimiora, Amituanai reminds us that the children in fact are “the village”.