24 May 2018

Moko artist defends controversial work

6:36 pm on 24 May 2018

The artist who did a Pākehā woman's facial moko stands by his work and says he's embarrassed about the racial backlash it has caused.

Life coach Sally Anderson

Life coach Sally Anderson Photo: Facebook / Sally Anderson

Life coach Sally Anderson received her moko kauae or Māori chin tattoo four years ago but she's recently copped criticism from some of the country's leading academics.

The debate had many arguing a moko kauae should not be worn by Pākehā women.

Auckland artist Inia Taylor said people should know his side of the story.

He spoke to RNZ's Te Aniwa Hurihanganui.

Why did you agree to give Sally Anderson a moko kauae?

"I was approached by a delegation from whānau and from an iwi who wanted to gift a person a moko kauae and I hesitated and said no twice and then, eventually, I said yes.

"She had that back up and I couldn't see any other reason for not doing it because my only reason for saying no would be because of her race, and that wasn't where I wanted to go.

"There's a lot of precedent within Māoridom of moko being a taonga that is gifted to non-Māori, it happened back in the day, and there's several Pākehā wearing it now.

"Me and my wife made that piece together, she was stretching and I was tattooing. We had talked for months beforehand.

Tattoo artist Inia Taylor.

Tā moko artist Inia Taylor. Photo: Facebook / Inia Taylor

"People that have been whāngaied into Māori whānau can then claim their whakapapa. In this case, it was definitely a case of tono and whāngai."

What do you make of the criticism?

"It does make me sad to see our country and our people saying some of the things that have been said, it's quite disgusting, but it's almost like a sore that needed to be squeezed out. Why is there such a big racial gap? Why is there such a big divide? Why are Māori feeling so disenfranchised? And why are Pākehā feeling so left out of this?

"This is all just growing pains of a country really. If Māoridom decides that they don't want any more Pākehā wearing tā moko well then that's fine and I think practitioners should follow that, but the point is Māoridom came to me and asked me to do this."

Why do you think Māori are divided on this issue?

"As painful as it is, the debate is good. An argument is, should Māori be out there branding moko and using it for commercial gain? Well, no, I don't agree with that.

"The person that came to me four years ago wasn't a life coach trying to brand a moko. I've since talked to Sally about that and I think she's learned a lesson there.

"I can't deny someone something, especially if other people think they are worthy, just because of race.

"I know moko is tapu and it's taonga but so are many other things. I mean, if you want to take this racism any further, we should get all the All Blacks that aren't ... Māori to sit down behind a goal post at the beginning of each match and just let the half a dozen that have got whakapapa do a little haka. Haka is a taonga too."

Would you give a Pākeha woman a moko kauae in the future?

"If a Pākehā woman had the backing of her hapū and iwi and had a whānau that were willing to stand by her and guide her, then I can't see a reason why most moko artists wouldn't do that, including myself.

"We are just mōkai to the community, that's all we've ever been. We record history and if part of that history is someone who is of value te ao Māori, has ahi kā and has worked hard for the Māori people and have gained that respect, then who am I to say no?"