“I want people to see the beauty that I see” - Erika Pearce

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

A new exhibition on women across the Pacific is making waves. "I Am Wahine", is an art exhibition by Pākehā artist Erika Pearce who says she strives to depict the strength and beauty of Māori and Polynesian women.  

However, one Māori artist says it raises issues of cultural appropriation.

Artist Natasha Keating says, “Any artist that comes from a dominant culture that wants to use aspects from a minority culture you'll always have an issue called cultural appropriation." 

However, Pearce says, “I want people to see the beauty that I see.”

She also says her intention is to celebrate the beauty of the cultures of the Pacific.

“I'm proud to be a Kiwi and I'm proud to come from this land and I have (the) utmost respect for the people that were here before my people and I want people to see what I feel,” says Pearce.

The exhibition features paintings of real women, Māori and Pasifika, who consented to have their image painted.

Pearce says, “We're such a melting pot of cultures and throughout this, it's been really interesting because you've got people who are Māori and Tongan and Samoan, and Asian and German and Indian all wrapped into one.”

Keating says most people aren't aware of the complexities of art and as a Māori artist she strives to decolonise the Māori image.

“Art for Māori is about so many other things, it's about whakapapa and it's about connection, it's about reflection, it's about where we stand in this society.” 

She also says Māori are capable of defining themselves.

A portion of proceeds from Pearce's work will be given to Women's Refuge.