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The fight to use/abuse Tame Iti’s image
Miromoda holds an annual competition for Maori designers. One of this years winners was an artist by the name of Hohepa Thompson.
His work used an image of Tame Iti super-imposed over and image of Osama Bin Laden on a tshirt. We are aware of the symbolism (i.e the notion that Tame Iti is considered a terrorist, when we all know he is not) however, no request to use hos likeness was ever made to Tame or his whanau, as result, Tame’s Whanau have asked Hori to stop using this image as he and they find it offensive, and proper protocols were not followed.
Miromoda continues to support Hohepa Thompson’s right to freedom of art, despite considerable concern from kupenga known for their understanding of intellectual property, traditional knowledge and Tikanga Maori.
Dr Aroha Mead suggested that although it was important for artists to celebrate their culture, basic ethical principles of informed consent were breached, saying “It is good to see a young Maori designer be inspired by his culture, but it is really important to have good cultural mentors able to advise about appropriate and inappropriate use of Maori imagery – informed consent is such a basic principle and I can’t help but wonder how many people who could have advised him to seek consent ‘forgot’ to or got tied up in the shock aspect of his creations. For those who have spent years pushing for changes in attitudes in NZ and globally to the use of Maori/indigenous imagery in the commercial arena, it was really disappointing to see a Maori breach the very basic standard of consent that we have all consistently asked for.”
While Dr Leonie Pihama reminded Miromoda that although Tame had reclaimed his Ta Moko from within the offending piece (by using it in his own work), this was far different to what was initially created, she went on to argue,
our images, our faces, our moko are not to be exploited and commodified just because some artist or designer thinks they can do so. Fundamental respect is what is being advocated. It only took a phone call to seek permission or otherwise.
This image could go to NZ Fashion week next month, if Miromoda organisers refuse to acknowledge Tame Iti and the concerns of his whanau along with this serious breach of ethics.
Kia ora to Tere Harrison for this panui.
TangataWhenua.com Eds: although we are now in possession of this image we have decided that we will not publish it, out of respect for the wishes of our whanaunga.
Although we are well-versed in arguments related to the freedom of expression and of art, we also feel that the right to control one’s own image is paramount, this along with the fact that Tame’s image not only reflects him, but that of his whakapapa and therefore his tupuna (through his Ta Moko) makes it very clear to us, that there is more to consider then just “one” type of right (ie. it is NOT just about the right of the artist).
And yes it is unfortunate when the offense is caused by someone who should understand these tenets, in their bones. Sadly it is not the first time Tame Iti’s image has been exploited by those within the indigenous community, in early 2000, his image was used for marketing purposes, without his permission for an international economic indigenous conference in Canada, in which we attended. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Mauri ora!
Here is the piece that appeared in the Whakatane Beacon in late July:
(Whakatane Beacon) WHANAU of jailed Tuhoe activist Tame Iti have threatened legal action if any remaining images blending Tame Iti and Osama bin Laden are not destroyed.
Maria Steens, Iti’s wife, has written on behalf of his whanau to New Zealand Fashion Week managing director Dame Pieter Stewart warning her the image, scheduled to appear in NZFW’s September show, is defamatory of Iti.
“It links him to a mass murderer, an ideological extremist and all the negative stereotypes associated with Osama bin Laden,” Ms Steens said.
The image was created by Maori artist Hohepa Thompson. It contributed to him earning second place in the Miromoda Maori fashion design competition this month.
Ms Steens said “in no way” did the image reflect the lifelong work of Iti and his quest for mana motuhake (autonomy) for Tuhoe.
The image involved used Iti’s intellectual property – his ta moko. Ms Steens’ warned damages would be sought from the creator of the image and anyone showing it for the defamation and harm doing so would cause to Iti’s character.
She sought an immediate undertaking that the image would be removed from public exhibition and the destruction of all remaining copies.
“Failure to do so will result in proceedings being issued and an injunction preventing further showing of the image.”
Dame Pieter could not be reached yesterday afternoon and neither could artist Hohepa Thompson.
Miromoda co-founder Ata Te Kanawa said from Wellington that Thompson had addressed criticism of his design on social and news websites and this satisfied the concern of many who initially took offense.
Bin Laden claimed responsibility on behalf of Muslim terror network Al Qaeda for the September 11, 2001, attack on New York’s World Trade Centre and other United States’ targets.
Iti’s lawyer, Russell Fairbrother, who visited Iti in Waikeria Prison yesterday, said his client was taking legal advice about the image.
Mr Fairbrother said he was aware whanau were taking action to curtail the image’s use, and confirmed Iti found it offensive.
Mr Fairbrother said Iti was “very positive” and making the best of his predicament.
He was giving tikanga Maori lessons to other prisoners and showing leadership.
He still can’t work out why he’s in prison,” Mr Fairbrother said.
His appeal of the 30-month sentence handed down for firearms offences that arose from the 2007 terror raids would be heard in the Court of Appeal on August 22.