Cultural appropriation provokes deep personal reflection

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Renowned Māori artist Robyn Kahukiwa has had one of her copyrighted images used illegally, to promote a t-shirt. 

The post has the words, "Wahine Toa, 'Warrior Women',  as well as 'Paying Homage to Indigenous Queens everywhere'. 

Ironically, the post fails to mention or acknowledge Robyn Kahukiwa.

The recognisable image by Robyn Kahukiwa has been used alongside an independently commissioned graphic design of a Māori woman with moko kauae, a feather in her hair, a tiki necklace and a korowai.

The graphic design had been used for a t-shirt and sold online, which Te Ao understands has now been removed from the website. 

While Māori graphic designs being sold commercially by non-Māori is generally acknowledged as cultural appropriation, the conversation has been centred on the use of the image belonging to Robyn Kahukiwa. 

These posts, dated 21 March 2020, have since been removed from Instagram, although they remain public on Facebook. 

After allegedly being approached by Māori Instagram users, 'Ms Marnie' has removed the Instagram post in question and has responded by uploading a response.

Some social media users have criticised the response as falling short of an apology and acknowledgement of copyright theft, while others had welcomed Ms Marnie's honesty.

In the response, titled, 'What I now know about my inherent racism and where to from here', Ms Marnie states that, "Last night I shared a picture of my Yass Queen t-shirt that has a depiction of a Maori woman alongside the Queen & other Queens. It was made clear to me that the use of this image is not appropriate and I was told that my design was racist, ignorant & disgusting. I’ve spent the last 12 hours sitting in the discomfort of being called out for being racist. I did not want to react from a place of defensiveness (even though that was my immediate unconscious reaction for sure) as I know this is a wake-up call and I am grateful for any prod (no matter how brutal) that makes me question my inherent beliefs & my conditioning. So here I share my insights from the last 12 hours and hope this conversation continues..."


A post shared by Ms Marnie (@msmarnie_is_here) on

Te Ao has reached out to Robyn Kahukiwa for comment but she is yet to respond.