8 Mar 2023

Tusiata Avia on her show 'The Savage Coloniser'

From Nights, 9:08 pm on 8 March 2023

Poet, performer and writer Tusiata Avia MNZM has attracted two weeks of “harrowing and violent” online attacks ahead of the stage debut of The Savage Coloniser Show. 

The play, based on her Ockham Award-winning poetry collection, The Savage Coloniser Book, opened last night (9 March) as part of the Auckland Arts Festival. The show is directed by Anapela Polata’ivao and produced by Victor Rodger. 

Publicity image for The Savage Coloniser Show, depicting a Samoan woman in a revealing glittery red dress, seated, holding a machete, against a blood-red background.

Photo: The Savage Coloniser Show

My poem has been weaponised
“What’s happened, basically, is my poem and my show has been reduced down to a platform for the political right, and that is crap. That’s where the hate and the racism comes in. It’s creating more fear and more intolerance in this country, where we don’t need that. It’s pulling on the fears of people who have not been educated to know what colonisation even is. It’s not even part of their experience. So those fears have been weaponised. This poem has been weaponised, just to get oxygen, just to get a platform, just to get time to talk a lot of rubbish in election year. I really refuse to take part in that ridiculous argument.”

Poetry is dangerous because it pushes hard against the status quo
“I’ve been a poet for a long time, it’s been 23 years now. This poem, that has been weaponised, has been published for three years. It’s not new. The thing about poetry is, it is dangerous, because the way I write it, it pushes hard against the status quo. It doesn’t allow the status quo to run the narrative so it is dangerous that way. It does that thing where it lifts the veil and looks straight into the eyes of the coloniser… That’s not comfortable. Poetry is important in that way.”

The Savage Coloniser Show is a collaboration
“It’s a really moving, beautiful production. The artistry around it is incredible. It’s such a collaborative thing. I wrote it, but the director, Anapela, she crafted it as a theatre work. And then of course there’s the fabulous actors and the choreographer and all the other amazing people, it’s a real collaborative piece.

"It talks about racism and colonisation. Those are the two big things that we tackle. It’s held in this beautiful basket of Samoan, pre-colonisation traditional stories and spirituality. That bookends this show, which is quite stunning to me.

"The main things in there are looking really unflinchingly at racism, specifically in Aotearoa, but it’s incredibly universal, and colonisation, 250 years down the line, where we are now and how savaged we’ve been by it. That’s it, in a nutshell.”

I don’t think rightwing people will come to the play
“I think we will get the audiences that we usually attract, which are people like ourselves, and I also think that people who are more open-minded from outside our demographic will come anyway, the usual kind of arts and theatre goers. I don’t think hard rightwing people are going to be there. I really hope that people who are kind of centrist and don’t know which way to fall, I really hope that they will come and allow themselves to be open to this ‘dangerous’ poetry.”

All good art is about big ideas
"All good art is about big ideas. Poetry is important because it exposes a kind of a structure, a machinery, that is accepted and not often, or not in a creative way, experienced. I think that that’s a thing about poetry, it is akin to the spiritual for me, I think that is something that happens in this show and that happened in Wild Dogs Under My Skirt. Anapela and myself, we have something in common in that we both kind of channel our work. I channel it onto the page and she channels it onto the stage. There is honestly a spiritual aspect to it. There’s a whole ‘nother level going on there. That’s why people have, apart from totally freaking out and doing all the ridiculous controversy, people leave in tears. People come to me clutching their hearts afterwards, saying ‘you told my story, no one’s ever said these things that have been in my heart, like this, before’. There is that other aspect of it, I think.”

The Savage Coloniser Show, directed by Anapela Polata’ivao runs from 9-12 March at the Q Theatre, as part of the Auckland Arts Festival, followed by a performance on 28 March at the Lake Wānaka Centre, as part of the Wānaka Festival of Colour.