Cerebrum Coloniae (Colonial Brains)

He Tirohanga Ki Tai (A View from the Shoreline): Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery is an exhibition featuring both leading and emerging Māori artists, who have created a completely sovereign space, supported by Indigenous funds, to hold a conversation critiquing the Cook invasion, the ensuing colonial experience, up to and including the TUIA250 events.

This exhibition started at Tairāwhiti Museum, in Whataupoko, Tūranganui a Kiwa, not far from the actual site of invasion itself. It subsequently toured to New York, where it was hosted by the ORA Gallery in Manhattan and accompanied with talks by First Nations scholars and myself on the specific impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery and Indigenous women. It will next be on display during NAISA at the University of Waikato, opening June 26th 2019 and on display until September 2019.

The works are able to be viewed here. A full catalogue and essay will soon be available, however for now I am sharing a brief essay I wrote about my own entry in the show: Cerebrum Coloniae (Colonizer Brains) – Whataūpoko.

47682556_1957231174390053_7705157456279633920_n47352493_333204650837483_1367962313730031616_n

Tina Ngata
Ngāti Porou
Cerebrum Coloniae series: First they discover you, then they subjugate you, then they fund you.
Whataūpoko
2018
Plastic, glass, steel, wood

cerebrum diagram

#1 Cerebrum Praesumptor
14mm x 11mm x 4mm
“I am aware that the most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure my conduct in fireing upon the people in this boat, nor do I my self think that the reason I had for seizing upon her will att all justify me, but when we was once a long side of them we must either have stud to be knockd on the head or else retire and let them gone off in triumph and this last they would of course have attributed to their own bravery and our timourousness”

#2 Cerebrum Agripeta
14mm x 9mm x 5mm
“They didn’t kill enough”

#3 Cerebrum Rex
14mm x 9mm x 5mm
“Where is the 5 percent discount for Pacific Island people, if they are actually causing trouble as well? They climb in the windows of other New Zealanders at night. It is not only Māori.”
NFS

This artwork (by the author) – responds to the claims that Cook was on a research expedition, and was no more than a benevolent scientist – a claim that is supported by the involvement of the Royal Society for Science and the various scientists on board such as Solander and Banks. This argument is often used to cloak the fact that Cook was also a naval officer, the HMS Bark Endeavour was a weaponized naval vessel, and they had direct orders to discover and claim lands for the Crown.

This fact aside, the use of science as a benevolent cloak also belies another truth – that it was systematically utilized in the colonization process to justify the killing and assimilation of Indigenous Peoples. In his article for E-tangata “Understanding Racism In This Country”  , Moana Jackson writes:

“Like all of the ideas that have been used to justify colonisation, racism developed over time through a complex and uniquely European history, in which the normal curiosity people have about the different and unknown was morphed into a patronising determination to equate difference with inferiority… The bodies of the racialised “other” became chattels to be enslaved, and lab rats to be dissected and measured and experimented upon.

Forlorn samples of pickled indigenous brains were scanned, and skulls were measured, as pseudo-scientists justified the European will to dispossess by inventing rationalisations about an indigenous lack of intelligence, and even an inability to appreciate the sublime.”

Many of the pseudo-scientists referred to by Jackson in this statement were members of the same Royal Society that sponsored expeditions into Indigenous territories. The practice of “phrenology” was based upon the notion that Indigenous peoples, due to the shape and size of their skulls, housed smaller brains and were therefore intellectually inferior. This conclusion was then used to justify colonization as a beneficent act upon savage, indolent peoples.

Collectively, this artwork turns the tale around, placing colonial brains on display, subjected to the gaze of others. They are presented in belljars, a common display method in Victorian science.

It’s also referenced in 1960s popular culture through the literary iconic novel “The Belljar” by author Sylvia Plath. In this novel, the author uses the metaphor of the belljar to describe how, from within the belljar, one’s perspective of the outside world is bulged, ugly, and distorted, and inescapable.

“Wherever I sat, on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok, I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

Within the context of this artwork, the belljar therefore references the lens of colonial phrenologists, anthropologists, navigators and politicians who have, throughout time, distorted the realities of Indigenous peoples to suit their own agendas.

This collection from the “Cerebrum Coloniae” (Colonial Brains) is termed Whataupoko, which references a site that is closely located near the Cook landing site, and a story which, from the Native perspective, plays a pivotal role in the story leading up to Cook’s invasion. It is also the site where “Tirohanga Ki Tai – Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery” first launched.

Whataupoko referred to the “piked heads” of Mahaki chiefs Tuarau o Te Rangi from Repongaere and Waiopotango from Whanau-a-Kai which were placed at the boundary marker of the Waimata riverbank, a mark of the mana of Konohi, a leader from Whāngarā who killed the two to protect the Whānau a Iwi people of that area. Konohi was the nephew of the highly esteemed chief Rakaiatāne. The grandson of Rakaiatāne was Te Maro – who was the first ancestor murdered during Cook’s invasion.

The three brains, as disembodied heads on pikes, therefore also reference the landblocks upon which the invasion took place, as sites of resistance, conflict, protection and resolution.

Although the brains are given quotes that come from actual people, each piece is given a latin name, as latin was the common language for European science from the 18th century onwards, and commonly used to denote species. The artists utilized this nomenclature to demonstrate the dehumanizing approach of European science towards Indigenous subjects – but also to reference that these are not just about singular events or individuals, but rather a socialized mindset and system of which these quotes are representative.

47470912_271817710185036_4634101384025735168_n

The first in the series is called Cerebrum Praesumptor – Brain of the Aggressive Invader. The quote is taken from the journal of James Cook, in reflecting upon his invasion of Tūranganui a Kiwa, wherein he shot and killed a number of unarmed fisherpeople on board their waka.

“I am aware that the most humane men who have not experienced things of this nature will cencure my conduct in fireing upon the people in this boat, nor do I my self think that the reason I had for seizing upon her will att all justify me, but when we was once a long side of them we must either have stud to be knockd on the head or else retire and let them gone off in triumph and this last they would of course have attributed to their own bravery and our timourousness”

This is an important quote to highlight, because it highlights that Cook’s decision to carry out this mass-murder was not at all an act of self-defence – but merely one to exercise their superiority, so that the victims were not to think that they were in any way superior. This therefore speaks to the aggressive nature of Cook, and directly challenges the notion of colonization as a benign experience.

The second in the series is titled “Cerebrum Agripeta”. “Agripeta” translates in latin as “squatter, settler, landgrabber”. This refers to the colonial hordes who followed upon the heels of Cook, grabbing land, and establishing “settlements” by way of unsettling the Māori who were already there, and eventually setting up their own system of governance which is still in power today. The “Agripeta” power structure relies upon the colonial fictions of Cook’s arrival being just, and even the killings being necessary. This was reflected last year when a Gisborne District Councillor was heard to utter that Cook did not kill enough local Māori during the invasion. Thus, the brutal, presumptuous nature of the original invaders lives on, and continues to bear impacts for local Māori through the policies and governance decisions of “Cerebrum Agripeta”.

The final in the series is “Cerebrum Rex”. Rex, in latin, holds the multiple meanings of: Monarch, oppressor, usurper, and patron. This quote is taken from ex-MP Jenny Shipley, who, in response to the government selling radio channels to Māori with a 5% discount, remarked in parliament:

“Where is the 5 percent discount for Pacific Island people, if they are actually causing trouble as well? They climb in the windows of other New Zealanders at night. It is not only Māori”.

As Ani Mikaere notes, “This comment revealed as much about Pākehā New Zealand’s obsession with home invasion, as it did about Shipley’s racist belief in a Polynesian prevalence for criminal activity”. 

Like Cerebrum Agripeta, Cerebrum Rex relies upon colonial fictions, and the suppression of Indigenous truth, in order to maintain it’s oppressive power structure. This is seen in Shipley’s attitude towards Maori historical accounts, when she said:

“While all political parties in my experience are generally committed to closing the gaps that exist in health, welfare, education and employment, this won’t be achieved by rewriting history”.

This was in response to Tariana Turia referring to the Māori experience of colonization as a “holocaust” (which is literally defined as destruction or slaughter on a mass scale).
Mikaere goes on to note that “The response of Pākehā politician, media and public to a simple truth about the genocidal impact of colonization on Indigenous Peoples typifies the fear and ocerreaction that usually accompanies any interpretation of events other than the one that sustains their own shaky foundations.”

Today, Dame Jenny Shipley is the co-chair the National Coordinating Committee for the multimillion dollar TUIA250 patron fund that is facilitating the invasion anniversary events.

Advertisements

One thought on “Cerebrum Coloniae (Colonial Brains)”

  1. Subordination of history to promote the views of the ‘victor’ has always sickened me.
    Thanks for your energetic response to these assaults on our minds and memories, Tina.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s