A Maori artist whose work was withdrawn from a planned exhibition after it was deemed too controversial is demanding that the Rotorua District Council apologise to her iwi.
Chanz Mikaere said it did not properly consult Te Arawa, even though it was artists from the iwi whose work was to be displayed in the council's inaugural art exhibition next month.
An email obtained by Radio New Zealand and sent from a council staff member to Ms Mikaere stated "the new Mayor and chief executive are keen to see the voice of Te Arawa for the first show and are not interested in censoring protest".
But Ms Mikaere said when mayor Steve Chadwick saw one of her works earmarked for the exhibition it was pulled, along with three others she offered. She said she was asked to submit pieces that were less offensive.
The artist said she often depicted genitalia in her work and the teke and ure (vagina and penis) were used in context to symbolise issues affecting her people such as domestic violence and political inaction.
"I've never ever shied away from controversy. I don't actually see the work as controversial. For me the genitalia - I know that's the word everyone wants to use - but the teke and the ure are simply tools of whakapapa.
"Everyone is quite happy to go about using these parts of their bodies willy-nilly, but no-one is prepared to take on the consequences of what that means and really consider whakapapa in a modern context.
"The other way I've used the genitalia and the imagery is to draw attention to specific issues. The one that has gained the most traction is probably the taiaha that does have a flaccid ure at the top of it and that's drawing attention to the lack of consultation that's going on within the Te Arawa Standing Committee restructuring. It's a sub-committe within the council and it's supposed to be protecting and looking after the representation of Te Arawa issues, but the council is far more interested in interacting with Te Arawa business entities than they are actual Te Arawa hapū," she said.
"The art works themselves are a reflection of a whole lot of different issues that need discussion in the community and this is not isolated to Te Arawa either. It's across the board in every community: honouring the role of our women, examining domestic violence and having open conversations about that. Also looking at when we are members of hapū, what are those relationships that we have with these entities like councils and how seriously are our aspirations being taken."
Mayor stands by decision
Rotoura mayor Steve Chadwick said the decision to ask that the art be withdrawn was made by staff and the council's cultural adviser, but agreed with them that the work was not in good taste.
Ms Chadwick said she did not know Chanz Mikaere's work, and had only seen one image that featured female genitalia.
"Public art is often controversial - we're not shying from that, but it was the one work where I thought, 'Is that right where we've got little children singing at a citizenship ceremony and others visiting here, not to see the art primarily?'.
"I think the place for that controversial art is definitely in the public gallery space, but this is quite different. This is a showcase of the stories of Rotorua."
An email from a council staff member to Chanz Mikaere and obtained by Radio New Zealand indicated that there was scope for the work to be controversial. It read:
"The new mayor and CEO are keen to see the voice of Te Arawa for the first show. They are not interested in censoring protest either. In fact, they are keen that the art on show ignite discussion and be more contemporary in nature. In terms of the show, I imagine a group show - as the space is really quite large. Oversized works will go well in this space."
Ms Chadwick said she would be talking to council staff to discuss the criteria outlined in the email and the council would not be apologising over the matter.
Te Arawa leaders were not available for comment today.