Chinese-Māori artist's lens exposed in new documentary series

By Mana Wikaire-Lewis

Dunedin-based artist Simon Kaan (Ngāi Tahu) is one of the artists featured in a new docu-series from RNZ titled ASIA: Art Stories in New Zealand.

Kaan is one of 18 Asian-origin New Zealand artists being profiled in fine arts, theatre, multimedia, dance and design. The series looks at how New Zealand's cultural environment is changing and how the arts can help spark more inclusive debates and understanding.

Of Chinese and Māori descent, Kaan says he explores the arts through a different lens.

“I tend to get referenced a lot in that conversation since I started my mahi in the last 20 years, full time, and my mahi reflects that quite strongly in my position here in Aoteroa in that cultural positioning,” Kaan says.

It was in high school where, under the tutelage of the late Marilynn Webb, Kaan discovered his passion for art.

“Mana whenua were here first, but that’s been covered over. There isn’t actually a lot of presence from the Māori perspective in Dunedin.”

There are other Asian-Māori artists around the motu who reach out to each other, discussing the many stories that the artists bring of their whānau, whakapapa and artistry journeys.

Kaan’s mahi is inspired by land, sea and sky, and he has helped with some design projects “helping to represent mana whenua’s aspirations within the design space”.

His mahi can be found throughout all of Dunedin, with his current works in progress in Dunedin Hospital and the township’s main road on George Street.