Being/living Maori is something that we will always have to nurture and put energy into before we can do anything else. This is because we live in a world that is dominated by a knowledge system other than that of our people. To the dominant culture our artistic practices may appear to be nothing more than a narrow-minded assertion of identity, but it is actually to do with a means of survival; something that I or any other indigenous person in a postcolonial context wanting to make change AND stay true to their culture should not have to be bound to, but is.
It is a process of always having to establish our own system of knowledge to work within before we can do the work itself. Our own frameworks. Which is hard when our system of knowledge is not implemented or lived out by the mainstream, and therefore is often misunderstood, misinterpreted and stereotyped. In fact, it even gets given the ill-fitting nickname of 'mythology' and I'm like hang on, there's nothing mythical about it, it's for real.
Having an activist flave to your artistic work can quite possibly result in your being labelled an essentialist and again I'm like, whatever: Until results are achieved from addressing the hegemonic power relations in this country and its institutions, until other cultural knowledges are recognized by the dominant one, then "essentialist" assertions of what seems to be a bordered identity are, in my book, completely necessary. Fluid understandings of borderless and culturally complex identities are the ideal, yes, but can only be achieved if minority cultures and their knowledges are first seen as acceptable and official in the eyes of the colonizers. Just sayin'.
As contemporary artists it is our place to work our tits off at having our knowledge recognized and made official so that our kids and grandkids won't be misunderstood. Art is the best way in which to do this, because it's easy to con the audience (pull on heart strings etc). Let's build our kids a pimped out whare in which to be themselves. That is, the for-real version of themselves.