New exhibition explores lived realities and representation of Māori men

updated By Jessica Tyson

Lower Hutt artist Chevron Hassett has a new exhibition on show in Wellington, highlighting how systems of oppression and visual representation have impacted indigenous lives, sovereignty and autonomy.

The exhibition JustUS includes photographic installations exploring the lived realities of Māori men in contemporary Aotearoa.

“JustUS is primarily about social issues for Māori men specifically but then a wider kind of concept of indigeneity here and social issues that affect us,” Hassett of Ngati Porou, Ngāti Rongamaiwahine and Pākehā (Irish) heritage, says.

The exhibition comprises of eight large photographic works with eight models of Māori men.

“Some of them are my cousins, family members and friends that I grew up with. So they’ve all modelled for the work and it’s kind of talking about incarceration issues primarily but also just everyday stereotypes that these people have to face," he says.

“Each man in here, some have been incarcerated, and every single one has been in a cell before, so it was kind of highlighting some of that daily experience that they had.”

In the photographs, the models wear green or grey uniforms to symbolise uniforms in the Rimutaka Prison in Upper Hutt, located in the north of Wellington. It is one of New Zealand's largest prisons.

Switched logos

“Originally you’ll see the uniforms have their logo and I’ve changed the logos to having slurs on them ... Over the weeks the images are being taken off the wall and getting replaced with the uniform that the individual was wearing," Hassett says.

“The metaphor of it is about taking away the body and just the remnants of them.”

The exhibition was partly inspired by Hassett's experience growing up with a father who was in prison.

“Visiting him since the age of five all the way until I was 21 on and off and then my grandfather was incarcerated too, in state care and stuff. He was put in state prisons so that idea of being in there seemed like a really big option.”

But Hassett and his mother ensured he took on as many opportunities as possible to avoid being in a similar situation.

“Me doing art has kind of taught myself that I can be whoever I want to be," he says.

“That’s the main thing I really want to push is just to have that ability for everyone to stand on their own two feet and be heard for who they are and not seen as a stereotype.”