Reo Rua (Two Voices): A Cross-cultural Māori-non-Māori Creative Collaboration

Mortensen Steagall, M
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School of Art and Design, AUT

In the last decades, there has been an emergence of an academic discourse called Indigenous knowledge internationally, creating a myriad of possibilities for research led by creative practice. In Aotearoa, New Zealand, Māori creative practice has enriched and shifted the conceptual boundaries around how research is conducted in the Western academy because they provide access to other ways of knowing and alternative approaches to leading and presenting knowledge. The contributions of Māori researchers to the Design field are evidenced through research projects that navigate across philosophical, inter-generational, geographical and community boundaries. Their creative practices are used to map the historical trajectories of their whakapapa and the stories of survival in the modern world. They overturn research norms and frame knowledge to express the values of Tikanga and Matauranga Maori. Despite the exponential growth in the global interest in Indigenous knowledge, there is still little literature about creative collaborations between Māori–non-Māori practitioners. These collaborative research approaches require the observation of Māori principles for a respectful process which upholds the mana (status, dignity) of participants and the research. This presentation focuses on four collaborative partnerships between Māori–non-Māori practitioners that challenge conceptions of ethnicity and reflect the complexity of a global multi-ethnic society. The first project is: The Māui Narratives: From Bowdlerisation, Dislocation and Infantilisation to Veracity, Relevance and Connection, from the Tuhoe film director Dr Robert Pouwhare. In this PhD project, I established a collaboration to photograph Dr Pouwhare’s homeland in Te Urewera, one of the most exclusive and historical places in Aotearoa. The second project is: Applying a kaupapa Māori paradigm to researching takatāpui identities, a practice-led PhD research developed by Maori artist and performer Tangaroa Paora. In this creative partnership, I create photographic portraits of the participants, reflecting on how to respond to the project’s research question: How might an artistic reconsideration of gender role differentiation shape new forms of Māori performative expression. The third project is: KO WAI AU? Who am I?, a practice-led PhD project that asks how a Māori documentary maker from this iwi (tribe) might reach into the grief and injustice of a tragic historical event in culturally sensitive ways to tell the story of generational impact from Toiroa Williams. In this creative partnership, I worked with photography to record fragments of the colonial accounts of the 1866 execution of Toiroa’s ancestor Mokomoko. The fourth project is: Urupā Tautaiao (natural burials): Revitalising ancient customs and practices for the modern world by Professor Hinematau McNeil, Marsden-funded research. The project conceives a pragmatic opportunity for Māori to re-evaluate, reconnect, and adapt ancient customs and practices for the modern world. In this creative collaboration, I photographed an existing grave in the urupā (burial ground) at xxx, a sacred place for Māori. This presentation is grounded in phenomenological research methodologies and methods of embodiment and immersion. It contributes to the understanding of cross-cultural and intercultural creativity. It discusses how shared conceptualisation of ideas, immersion in different creative processes, personal reflection and development over time can foster collaboration.

Cross-cultural collaboration; Design Research; Indigenous knowledge; Maori-non-Maori creative partnership; Photography
Proceedings of LINK 2022 4th Edition of the International Conference of Practice and Research in Design & Global South Vol.3 No.1 (pp. 41-44). DOI:
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