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Waitangi Day protests of the past highlighted in new exhibition still relevant today - activist

Mary Afemata

A prominent Pacific activist says an exhibition chronicling the Waitangi protest movements from the late 70s to mid-80s is timely given the issues facing the country today.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Polynesian Panther Tigilau Ness, also a renowned Niuean-Kiwi musician, has seen the exhibition - dubbed HIKOI: Get Up, Stand Up - that debuted at the Waitangi Museum last week.

It exhibits the camera work of James Aotearoa Pasene, a photographer and member of the Whakahou (Renew) group showcasing his unpublished photography and digital works between 1980-1985.

“It is absolutely timely with the way things are heading with this Government, especially today,” Ness says.

“I’m sure whoever is going to watch it, there’ll be a fire lit under them as well. So all those years weren’t wasted at all,” says Ness.

“It is a love letter from James Aotearoa Pasene to all the people who were involved over the years in the protests up at Waitangi, leading up to Waitangi and during Waitangi.”

The Whakahou group was made up of young people - mostly ex-Hillary College students from South Auckland’s Otara - who, at the time, watched the injustices in their society and ached to redress it, Pasene says.

Influenced by the Polynesian Panthers and their community initiatives, Whakahou included Pasene and his best friends Brian Lepou, Ben Dalton and Pasene’s life partner Zena Tamanui.

“A lot of the old people now, the ones that have marched over the years - they’re gone.”

Ness - who is also the father of Kiwi hip hop and R’nB legend Che Ness, better known as Che Fu - says the exhibition reiterates the Polynesian Panther’s belief to educate and liberate.

‘The younger ones have to learn and see their history’

“The younger ones have to learn and see their history because it is part of their history and to follow that example.

“We’ve never stopped fighting for our rights. See how they’ve kept the legacy alive [to] today.”

Pasene says he was given a six-week window of opportunity to bring the exhibition to life.

He says the whole rationale behind the exhibition is to show the human side behind the protest movement, rather than the protesting and confrontation.

“It’s not about banner-waving or the placards.

As a fellow protestor, I could take photos of the things that maybe other photographers couldn’t because I was a part of the inner circle and that’s what I’m showing.”

“A lot of times the media would dehumanise the protestors - making everybody sound like a whole bunch of unemployed Auckland people going out there to shit-stir.”

Pasene says protestors were portrayed in a light far from the truth of who and what they were about. His exhibition shows everyone as they are, he says.

“These time-travelling photos are one of the benchmarks of my idealised, romantic memory, the most exhilarating time of my young life, an experience that I wish upon my children. This is my love letter to those times, places and people.”

The exhibition is dedicated to his late wife who died 18 months ago. She was a very prominent activist and highly respected by all those names that Pasene mentioned in his exhibition.

“The title: Get Up, Stand Up is my nod to you who are unhappy with this Government.

The next three years will see even more strident protests on the streets - don’t hesitate - get up, stand up, and change the world.”

The exhibition will be on show at the Waitangi Museum, in Waitangi, until March 31.

Hero Image: Musician Tigilau Ness for the 12 Questions column. 11 November 2016 New Zealand Herald Photograph by Doug Sherring.

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