This is my opinion piece. My reflection on an artwork titled 51. This artwork makes me feel uncomfortable. It disturbs me. Here’s why.
I have absolutely nothing personal against the two artists who created this artwork. I don’t know them, I’ve never heard of them until recently.
This artwork titled 51 has been floating around FB for a while now. The reviews and comments have been positive and endearing, to say the least.
I have visited the Glorious Islam website and read the information available. I’ve had a closer inspection of the 51 artwork. These artists are skilled in calligraphy.
It has been on display in the Wellington Museum for the ‘Pretentious but not expensive’ exhibition. Not everyone gets to have their artwork displayed in Te Papa.
But either they missed some important history, or the addition was intentional. Either way, for me, some elements are fundamentally conflicting and controversial.
I have decided to write a personal perspective on this artwork. A perspective, not from a Muslim living in “New Zealand” or a Muslim of more than forty years. But from a Māori perspective, my Māori perspective.
Now, I can understand the two artists had a genuine niyat and a passion to create this acrylic on canvas artwork. May Allah reward them for their efforts.
The art piece is aimed to spread a message of “love, peace, unity across Aotearoa New Zealand, and around the world”. I’m paraphrasing but they continued to describe these words in action as “the key to success and co-existence for any diverse or multicultural society.”
I tried to put myself in the artist’s mind.
I wondered where and how they found their inspiration to arrive at a place where their artistic use of style and featured elements communicated these artist’s intended messages visually and where the artwork titled 51 is explained for us in some written detail.
While most Muslims are praising the artwork. I am not.
To be honest, I too felt positive vibes when I first saw it online, until I stopped to take a closer look. How on earth did I fail to see it at first glance, I asked myself.
Did you spot it?
It isn’t calligraphy or the use of different languages. It’s not the use of black and white or even blue and red colors. These elements are what initially distracted me and took my focus off ‘the mark’.
The artists have described the “New Zealand map is in blue white and red flag colors….”
In the artwork, about half of the map of Te Ika a Maui or the North Island is consumed with the United Kingdom’s Union Jack flag.
I say this because the stars of the Southern Cross emphasizing this country’s geographical location in the Southern Hemisphere, South Pacific do not appear in the artwork.
These stars define which country the flag represents. Although there are four stars located in Te Wai Pounamu or the South Island, at the lower part of the artwork, I see the Union Jack.
The New Zealand flag, as we know, does encompass the Union Jack.
It is there to remind us here in Aotearoa New Zealand of our historical origins under the domination of the British Empire and as a British colony.
The flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand is recognized as the first national flag of Aotearoa.
So from this Māori’ perspective, what I see in this artwork is conflict and controversy.
Conflict, because what this artwork communicates to me, through my eyes is the Union Jack’s link to white supremacy, mass murder, military weapons, and privilege.
The Union Jack is given pride and place in the artwork as it claims prominence above the kupu Maori ‘Aroha’. It’s a painful illustration of the British Empire’s large scale undertaking to abolish te reo Maori.
As much as I am choosing to believe the two artists intended to bring people together, I believe they achieve more controversy.
Controversy, because I see in this artwork the Crown’s flag. The Crown’s naval and armed forces who came here some 250 years ago to kill us, who came to remove our status as indigenous landowners, our mana, our ethnic race, our taonga, our language, our beliefs, our traditions, our culture, even our social structures.
They came to obliterate Te O Māori and replace it with The British Royal Family’s Imperialism.
So for me, this artwork, and the representation of such a flag doesn’t in any way portray a message of love, peace, unity, aroha, rangimarie, kotahitanga.
It represents the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
It represents how many Muslims in New Zealand want to believe they live in a peaceful land where hope for prosperity flourishes.
It represents how some of us continue to ignore or overlook New Zealand’s history of institutional and social racism towards Māori.
It represents how some of us continue to ignore or overlook the failed responsibility by Crown agencies, to protect the Muslim community in Aotearoa.
It represents how the Muslim community has wrapped a protective shield of love, peace, and unity around a symbol of white supremacy, of oppression.
At the cost of what and to whom?
May Allah grant our 51 Shaheed the highest level of Jannah. I mean no offense to the ummah during this 2nd anniversary of the terror attacks.
Medjool Mara – Inspired by female Maori Orators from her Iwi Ngati Porou, Medjool Mara is a Maori Muslim observer with an opinion.