May 8, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

The fight to use/abuse Tame Iti’s image

5 min read


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. 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, Itis 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 NZFWs 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 Itis 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 Itis 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 Yorks World Trade Centre and other United States targets.
Itis 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 images 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 cant work out why hes 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.

12 thoughts on “The fight to use/abuse Tame Iti’s image

  1. To say a simple phone call could have avoided any issue is bitter hindsight, should the artist have done so he would have been shot down and vilified. There are no such laws against using ones image, how do Maori in General feel about their images being captured daily on CCTV? Should this justification also exemplify them from this also? The us vs them gap is ever growing and complaints of this nature are what’s making the gap wider and more unretrievable. What a fickle nation we have become where a convicted criminal can’t be portrayed for what he is.

  2. Yank “culture”, Based In Wholesale Theft Of Indigenous People’s Lands And Futures, Is Swallowed By Shallow-Minded Ignorant Individuals With Cursory Understandings Of Barack Obama’s True Origins. Namely That His Own Mother And Father Both Worked For The C.I.A. (Central “intelligence” Agency), And That His Mother Was A Bank Escrow V.P. For The Bank Of Hawaii, Issuing Cheques To U.S. Dictators Around The World.
    Tied-To-The-Hip To Indonesian Genocide In West Papua (Irian Jaya), Obama Is The Most Noxious Image Imaginable To Be Associated With The Greatness Of Tame Iti. The Only Thing That Barack Obama Has Done For Hawai’ians (Kanaka Maoli) Is To Donate A Life-Less Cold Statue Of King Kamehameha In Washington D.C. I Am Intrigued To Know If The Obama Fan (Nutter) Is A Yank Living In Stolen Te Aotearoa. For Who But A Total Deluded Brain-Washed Idiot, Would Emulate Or Up-Lift The Image Of Barack Obama To The Heights Of The Noble And Wonderous Efforts Of Tame Iti. Only When Barack Obama Decided To Run For President, Was The Total Lie Created That He Was Born In Hawai’i. For FACTS Prove That Barack Obama Was Born In Kenya. Barack Obama Is A Puppet Pure And Simple, Tame Iti (My Hero) Is None Such Vessel Of Sinister Undertakings.

    Splatters Like Blood Upon The Mind Of Deluded “Kiwis”, Who Have Cursory Shallow Understandings Of Barack Obama’s Entirely C.I.A.

  3. He still cant work out why hes in prison

    Tame is not that stupid. We all know – as he does – very well why he is in prison:
    because “New Zealand” an racist, apartheid white country!

    1. To Te Hokowhitu-a-Tuhoe
      August 16, 2012 at 12:54 am

      If New Zealand is a racist apartheid country, then why do we have the Waitangi Tribunal? And why is the government giving millions of dollars to iwi to right the wrongs of the past? It is not P?keh?’s fault that the earlier settlers were racist, we can’t change the past, but we are trying very hard to make a better future.

  4. This is about Maori doing it to Maori however for Maori doing it to non-Maori I would have to comment that the cultural sensitivities as mentioned to some degree by others is the point of difference where non-Maori either genuinely, ignorantly or disrespectfully breech those boundaries however defined.

    It isn’t surprising when non-Maori make these kind of mistakes. I’m not so offended when it does occur because they don’t necessarily know the lores of our people nor is there any awareness of such values. In the past I have expected Maori to know and apply appropriately but it just simply is not the case in this millennium which makes it all the more frustrating for Maori who continue to work hard on these issues both locally and internationally.

    My question to Hippy is when and if Maori in situations are not asking permission, are they misappropriating in a way that insults non-Maori to the core? Are they attacking their bloodlines, integrity or character in a derogative manner? I would like to know how do Muslim people/Osama’s family feel about the misappropriation/commodification of his image? especially when he is deceased! To add to that, people are going to make money from it which is the underlying breech that throws light to this issue. For now, neither families of that image are being renumerated for the stage of product development that it is at are they?

  5. Maori photographers and artist do not ask permission of non-Maori to use their images. So maybe Maori should start practicing what they preach.

    1. “Maori photographers and artist do not ask permission of non-Maori to use their images. So maybe Maori should start practicing what they preach”

      That’s not true, for Maori and non-Maori you have to abide by copyright and IP law. It’s no different here.

  6. Good coverage of these issues. Thank you for not reprinting the offending image. The ‘artist’ is stealing. It’s really simple. His ‘art’ is not acceptable as it hinges on someone else’s image and reputation.

  7. How would the artist like it if his likeness was used by someone else and that person capitalised on it financially? Is he Maori or is he a riwai?

  8. Excellent coverage in this article thank you!

    As an artist myself the artist in question is not the first Maori to have dishonoured himself, Tame, the whanau, hapu, iwi and tikanga Maori not to forget the tupuna that Tame descends from.

    In my experience of the fashion and design industry some Maori think and practice this way often, whilst we worry about tauiwi exploiting our culture. It is very disheartening to see an organisation like Miromoda practice this way and no surprise that Pieter Stewart remains to be out of communication range. This exploitation of Tame can be directly linked with raising the profile of NZFW to potentional international wholesalers and buyers.

    My question is where does Tame get to benefit from this? How timely when a number of people are rallying around, working hard to fundraise for Tame and Rangi.

    There is no excuse for Maori if they identify themselves as Maori artists to be conducting themselves this way to get the recognition or monetary return they are seeking.

    I recommend – Sharing culture or selling out? Developing the commodified persona in the heritage industry

    By Dr Alexis Bunten(American Ethnologist)
    Published 31 July 2008

    Native American professionals in the heritage industry often describe their work as sharing culture when they are involved in processes of transforming features of their cultures into alienable products for consumption. Participation in the heritage industry can be a powerful catalyst for local cultural reproduction, but it also poses a danger to those aspects of culture that Natives consciously protect from commodification. Drawing from a case study of a Native Americanowned cultural-tourism business in Alaska, I explore the ways that tourism workers respond to this threat through the construction of what I call a commodified persona.[cultural commodification, representation, Northwest Coast, tourism]

    Many thanks also to Dr Aroha Mead, Dr Leonie Pihama and Tere Harrison for their contributions to this issue, something in my opinion that requires a lot more discussion and educating amongst our people.

    Mauri Ora!

  9. As A Maori I love that indigineous art is lauded but you cant have a double standard. If a Pakeha appropriating aspects of our culture is wrong, then why is is right for a Maori to do so? As a student at Wellington School of design in the 90s, my tutor (Rangi Panoho) would stress the importance to indigenous peoples that their culture was/is protected and that artists not appropriate what they want to make a statement, regardless of what that statement is. Theft is theft, regardless of the race of the thief

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