Artist challenges media to be more culturally competent

By Jessica Tyson

Hohepa Thompson's art often draws attention to political issues, such as racism.

Earlier this year he led the Hori’s Pledge Tour, calling to correct the country’s name and return it to Aotearoa but his latest project challenges New Zealand's top media organisations with Auraki, a digital art character, designed to enter media companies to assess and support them with cultural competency.

“It starts with a wero (challenge) and the AR being is actually on top of their building, kind of like a living tekoteko (carved figure). From that, we kind of tono (request) to them about bringing Auraki within the space.”


Bringing cultural competency to workplaces.

Auraki is part of Thompson’s We Are the Mainstream project, viewable through the Hori app on mobile devices. The kaitiaki (guardian) offers questions of media staff about cultural competency surrounding te ao Māori.

“It’s an interactive tool, so you can see Auraki within the space,” Thompson says.

The project has been presented to some of the country's largest media companies including Stuff, NZME, Mediaworks, TVNZ and Whakaata Māori.

“We’ve had two whakatau already with Media Works and Stuff and Auraki is now within their buildings. TVNZ has come and is going to take it on also and we are in talks with Whakaata Māori and NZME about potentially another date moving forward.”

It comes two years after Stuff apologised to Māori for its racist reporting. It was part of an investigation that unearthed numerous examples of journalism practices denying Māori an equitable voice.

“We’ve been taking this for a very, very long time – a headline that gets changed, an image that gets put below a headline. Immediately, anyone would look at it and see a brown face and think ‘Oh that’s the reason why,” Thompson says.

“If all of the journalists and all of those people's competency levels were high, they’d maybe think ‘Oh alarm bells. This headline might not suit this. We need to think about this a bit further.'”

Standing up for Māori is not new for Thompson, of Ngāti Toa Rangatira, Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Kai Tahu. Earlier this year he led the Hori’s Pledge Tour, travelling from Parliament, along the West Coast to Cape Reinga.

“We have a very dark colonial past and when you look at our people and what we’ve lost, it's only right that things get put back to what they were. When you’re thinking about a name like Aotearoa, there is no connection New Zealand has here. The person who actually came from the Netherlands and from Zealand didn’t even set foot on this land,” Thompson says.

“What we’re trying to do with that kaupapa is give people more insight into that history.”

As part of the project launch, Thompson has an exhibition on Friday in Tāmaki Makaurau, featuring kākahu (clothes) for sale.

“We’ve picked the 10 greatest hits really. So all of these pieces will be animated and you’ll only be able to see it through your phone while at the exhibition.”

Thompson says anyone is welcome to come to the event on Friday at 7pm at 4 Cross Street in Tāmaki Makaurau.