The Urewera Mural: Becoming Gift and the Hau of Disappearence

Isabel McIntosh


In this article I discuss the seeming 'theft' of the Urewera Mural in 1997, using the term ‘cultural activism’ to describe the mural’s removal, because it acted as a catalyst to refocus the spotlight on specific Maori land claim issues. The Urewera Mural was targeted because it was portrayed as an object of white cultural value with significant representations for Pakeha. Te Kaha’s intention was for Pakeha to lose something of value and to experience how Maori have felt since colonisation when their land, their cultural value, was taken. Stephen Muecke writes that ‘cultural activism can have the same result as political activism, but it doesn’t look the same ... It is a tactical “bringing out” of culture as a valuable and scarce “statement” ’. I suggest cultural activism is, thus, ‘performative’ political activism; for when protestors dress up and ‘perform’ their protest, a media identity is created that is beyond the political message, and so more memorable.

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