It’s an ill wind . . .


    It’s not entirely coincidence that, at this particular point in time, Waiheke’s contribution to public sculpture on the global stage is rich in the symbolism of stewardship, rangitiratanga and a sort of clarity of spirit that comes from engagement with the past and the importance of ensuring wholesome legacies for the future.
    As an overarching brief, competing artists vying for selection in headland Sculpture on the Gulf 2017 were asked to think about Waiheke and its people. However, many of the works, especially those by Waiheke’s own regular exhibiting sculptors, also powerfully reference the fragility of the exhibition’s background of sea and floating islands that remain substantially unchanged since Heaphy first sketched them 170 years ago.

    As print media everywhere try to grab a footing in a new world of ‘alternate truths’, we are all going to have to engage with our world in a new and more immediate way.

    Man-made beach wrack – David McCracken’s upscaled discarded swim-ring in stretched stainless steel with its sinister techno undertones of plasma and fusion; Michael Tuffery’s limpet fashioned from orphaned jandals – sit alongside more Polynesian references that capture millennial timeframes and aspirations for a new enlightened thinking. Tongan Semisi Fetokai Potauaine says his Manuesina (White Bird and White Angel), resonates across cultures, “seeking to bring new light to the plight of environmental, psychological and social conflicts that enslave us in our everyday lives. Knowledge is contained in culture, communicated in language and enlightens our self-awareness.”
    Even as the 45th President of America over-reaches even the worst fears of the last nine months with his reckless endangerment of his own country’s global leadership, there are signs that counterbalancing forces elsewhere are starting to tear apart the veil of naked global greed like an old bedsheet.
    While even White House aides look as if they are sucking lemons in the background of a succession of executive order signings as isolationist as they are unconstitutional, the charismatic prime minister of Canada was making an impassioned commitment to refugees in terms that would have impressed America’s Founding Fathers.
    Canada will, he said, welcome those fleeing “persecution, terror and war regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength”.
    Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Labour and the Greens, scathing of Bill English’s vapid response to the new American isolationism, launched a policy-based election platform in terms that should generate useful debate over the next nine months.
    The Greens say they would immediately double our own refugee quota – bolder than anything we have been allowed to contemplate over the last eight years but far too modest for my taste.
    We have immigration running into 70,000 a year (the figures vary), so 1500 refugees – a paltry two percent of our new citizens – will be those torn from their homelands and probably in lifelong exile as a result of wars not of their making.  Actually, by wars created specifically to pillage the resources of their countries and empower murderous dictators.
    The other 68,500 is a mix that includes, most notably this week, US escapees of dubious moral character and a fair number of British people taking the easy route out. And Indian youngsters who had to be incentivized with shonky visas to come here and have been shamefully treated once the spotlight was turned on the issue.
    Many if not most of the immigrants – rather than refugees – of all ethnicities arriving here have disposable income and capital out of all proportion to that available on New Zealand wages so it will take more to convince me that we have our immigration settings right than platitudes from a think tank recruited by the Business Round Table and touted by our media as “a new study”.
    Last year I took a few taxis to hospital appointments, one particularly standing out.  What did he like about Auckland, I asked the taxi driver as an opening. He was from Afghanistan, here not so long with his young wife and child and his enthusiasm for Auckland was magical.  We talked his geography and ours and the only time his voice hardened was when the American role in the war in Afghanistan came into the discussion. Of all the other soldiers, only they, he said, would never be forgiven by his people.
    It was one of those brief but sunny and eternally memorable exchanges you get a lot when you’re travelling properly (though in your own culture and with the stakes of culture and conformity higher, it is rare).
    As print media everywhere try to grab a footing in a new world of megalomania and ‘alternate truths’, we are all going to have to engage with our world in a new and more immediate way.
    A dawn walk among the headland sculptures, alone without distractions or
    gossip, is a good way to start. • Liz Waters

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