12 Jun 2020

Artwork explores link between New Zealand laws, and violence

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:30 pm on 12 June 2020

A new interactive artwork prompted by the Christchurch mosque attacks is tracking how some New Zealand communities have become over-policed, and others not scrutinised enough.

Violent Legalities explores how violent events in New Zealand relate to law changes before and after these occur.

Dr Karamia Muller came up with the concept following the attacks in Christchurch last year. She hopes the visual research exhibition in Wellington will help people better understand both contemporary New Zealand society and its history.

Dr Muller's exhibition is opening at a time when racial injustice in the United States is in the world spotlight.

“A few people have said to me ‘this is timely, that your exhibition has come up’ and I think one of the sad realities is racialised over-policing is always happening because it’s systemic and anything that is systemic will continue unless we address it,” she tells Jesse Mulligan.

Growing up as a Samoan woman motivated Dr Muller's work and gave her a natural affinity with people experiencing these issues. But it was the Christchurch terror attacks last year that prompted her to join other researchers and launch the initiative.

"I have a brother who converted to Islam and I’m racialised myself as a Samoan woman. I feel a solidarity with indigenous land movements.

“Also, I have friends that occupy a spectrum of political backgrounds and yet this event has occurred… it was cataclysmic, the fact that extremist views of that kind felt like the only outlook was violent measures.

“That to me actually wasn’t surprising. So, when it occurred I had a research project here and it might, because of the things we’re hoping to bring together across the various sources and disciplines, it might take an experimental approach.”

Dr Muller a lecturer at the School of Architecture and Planning, says after the attacks she contacted others to explore concepts of identity, land, terror and law.

“I got in touch with Loughlan Commode, who is a New Zealander but works for Forensic Architecture, who also has a method, a way of thinking about that application of architecture.

“We came up with this idea and it was a working hypothesis initially, that what we could do is map ‘racialised events’, drawing on journalistic sources and plot these against legislative activity."

Dr Muller wanted to allow the audience to create their own links between historical and contemporary events for themselves.

“The scale of the issues we’re tackling, they’re large ones and they work across disciplines, law, history, land. But I think that the key things for me about it is place, and place is contextualised as a New Zealander.

“I think… across political ideologies you find New Zealanders take the relationship to land, the relationship to this place very much to heart, it’s beyond just living here. It’s something greater than that.

“I think the time-mapping dimensions allows us to map the wide-ranging sources that cover historical documents, narrative experiences, legal activity, in a way that resonates with our attachment to land.”

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Photo: University of Auckland

Violent Legalities has three themes, each intersecting.

The Tuhoe Raids by anti-terror police in 2007 and the subsequent apologies by authorities are explored as part of the exhibition.

“The first is Terror Legalities. The impetus for that was Christchurch and the question space around Christchurch began that platform because we kept coming across, at the intersections of terrorism, terrorism legislation, race, land, we kept coming across the Tuhoe Raids.

“That prompted Treaty Legalities, which is a platform looking specifically at the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal findings, relative to Te Urewera district and the claims behind those.

“The last platform, by Frasier Creighton, called Moral Drift, looks at state care to incarceration pathways. These all weave in and out of each other. They have their own themes.”

Dr Muller says the incidents mapped go back as far as 1840. She hopes the interactive nature of the project will allow people to draw their own conclusions and in the process better understand the nature of New Zealand society.

Dr Muller hopes Violent Legalities will be brought to Auckland next year, where other collaborations are expected to be added.

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