Academic journal article About Performance

Creating Images and Telling Stories: Decolonising Performing Arts and Image-Based Research in Aotearoa/new Zealand

Academic journal article About Performance

Creating Images and Telling Stories: Decolonising Performing Arts and Image-Based Research in Aotearoa/new Zealand

Article excerpt

Intercultural1 scholarship in Aotearoa2/New Zealand is coming under increasing scrutiny by Maori3 and non-Mäori thinkers who question received assumptions to do with research practice and knowledge dissemination. Amongst others, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Graham Hingangaroa Smith and Russell Bishop question ways in which scholars claim, colonise and re-contextualise indigenous knowledges in the name of research. This issue is not confined to Aotearoa/New Zealand, of course; many post-colonised peoples are grappling with similar questions, so often entangled with unequal power relations. Research methods, the activity of research itself, and academe's insatiable hunger for creating and consuming knowledge are increasingly problematic activities for indigenous people whose knowledges and ways of being in the world provide fodder for this machine. Moreover, the researcher, problematically, becomes the mouthpiece for indigenous experience and knowledge. Further to this, a positivist sophism, arguably, implies that research can provide knowledge from a "detached, objective standpoint" (Foley and Valenzuela 2005, 218), which is an increasingly perilous position in post-colonial and indigenous research contexts. Foley and Valenzuela's argument has a wide application within the field of qualitative research, and researchers from a number of disciplines are "beginning to use multiple epistemologies, [often valuing] introspection, memory work, autobiography, and even dreams as important ways of knowing" (218). Such tools have been the currency of theatre practitioners for centuries, and theatre scholars have acknowledged their crucial importance when talking about and seeking to quantify performance.

This paper begins by outlining theoretical arguments around the indigenous Kaupapa4 Maori academic research paradigm in Aotearoa/New Zealand, and ends with stories. Stories - told through images in both theatre and film - are at the core of this work, and stories are powerful forces. Thomas King tells us that "stories [are] medicine.. .a story told one way could cure.. .the same story told another way could injure" (2008, 14). Research is a means of storying, and of narrativising experiences and ideas. The aim of the stories re-told in this paper is to draw individuals and ideas together whilst acknowledging difference, and to seek a means to resist constructing essentialist axioms and boundaries in favour of repairing ruptures, honouring communities and re-info rcing mana.5

For many indigenous people, including Maori, research is a highly problematic activity. Indeed Linda Tuhiwai Smith argues "'research' is probably one of the dirtiest words in the indigenous world's vocabulary" (1999, 1). Research arguably legitimises the colonial project by othering Maori as interesting subjects for the colonial gaze and Maori knowledges as curios to be consumed abroad. Playwright, writer and thinker Hone Kouka (Ngati Porou, Ngati Raukawa)6 cautions against Maori losing sovereignty over Maori intellectual and cultural properties, as is often the result of being "researched", stating:

Aotearoa is the only country in the world in which my people exist. We are the tangatawhenua7 (indigenous people of the land). We call the whenua (land) our turangawaewae (place to stand) and, even in today's modern world, many of us hold to this belief. At present, we are battling with those people who feel that they have the right to use our beliefs and rituals and teach them to others across the world. (2007, 243)

As a means of speaking back to and resisting issues of knowledge appropriation and unequal power relationships experienced by Maori communities as a result of epistemological colonisation, a number of Maori thinkers write and talk about the development of a Kaupapa Maori8 research methodology. The term "kaupapa" translates into English as philosophy, agenda or platform, and it is upon this platform that research is re-imagined as a collective activity whose core protocols follow Maori customary practices. …

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