Ngāti Porou artist highlights issues of incarceration, racism affecting Māori men

By Jessica Tyson

Artist Chevron Hassett is launching new works focusing on social issues affecting Māori men such as incarceration and racism.

Hassett, of Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Rongomaiwāhine, has a personal connection to the work because, during his childhood - from age 5 to 20, his father was in and out of prison.

“I’m just trying to create a conversation and express what’s on been in my heart my whole life," he says.

“There needs to be a wider discussion socially about the effects on people ... about the way the colonial complex pressures a lot of people ... it breaks down family systems and limits opportunities for growth for a big chunk of our society."

Chevron Hassett / Source: The Outliers

JustUs System

Hassett has been funded by Creative NZ to create the works named JustUs System.

“I’ve been developing eight large works of men dressed in prison uniforms that I have recreated with racial slurs on them and I’ve made handcuffs," Hassett says.

“It’s mainly, firstly, giving a voice to the voiceless people and also creating bridges or access for other people who might not be as informed to have an awareness of what really happens in our country.”

In March this year, Hassett displayed an exhibition named Restor(N)ative at the St Paul Gallery in Auckland featuring two works showing him wearing a prison uniform featuring his birth year - 1994.

“It was about me being born into a line of people being incarcerated,” he says.

Hassett says Māori men are eight times more likely than anyone else to be incarcerated.

“So, hopefully, these large works can allow people to feel the feeling that these men feel daily and bring some mana to them as well.”

A remake of what Hassett photographed as part of his Restor(N)ative exhibition. Source: The Outliers

The Outliers

Hassett is featured in the recent Māori TV series The Outliers. The aim of the series is to search out youth who are the standout, the anomaly or the outlier in their community.

Hassett was raised in Naenae, Lower Hutt and has overcome the odds to become a successful artist. He’s exhibited his work across Aotearoa and in Australia.

He says as a teenager he experienced being a victim of racism and discrimination, especially being told he could not be an artist.

“I used to lock myself away and draw to deal with all that stress and mamae (hurt) or negativity," he says.

“Then, from that, I found a positive outlet for myself and, when I found that internally, I just chased it. It was nervewracking because there was no pathway for me essentially but that allowed me to go through adversity, through discrimination.”

Chevron Hassett teaches art to rangatahi. Source: The Outliers

Art teacher

Hassett also teaches art to rangatahi up to three days a week.

“For me, it’s a sense of reclaiming mana motuhake or my own integrity of the strength in my community. I should help them grow and nurture them.  I have access and I have time and if you have access and time and you see an issue and you don’t support it, you become a part of that issue in the way. So I try my best to build platforms for them and just be a positive figure and allow them to be themselves when they’re around me.”

Hassett says his new works will be on display at Enjoy Contemporary Art Space in Wellington from December.