Monday, May 28, 2007

A little public service for Blood Covenant

Hurricane of Blood Covenant called me the other day. Said he loved my coverage of their concert at Unwind Centre. He asked me to rewrite the text in their web page in my "patented" style. See below what I came up with. I'm not sure they are going to like it. If they do use it, you'll see this text on this website in a few days:-

I know it's a bit 'over the top'. But what the hell, it's a death metal band ;)

Blood Covenant

(Left to right: Hurricane, Wolf, Ed Bull, Thorn)

Who, or what, is the Blood Covenant? Simply the biggest, baddest, ugliest rock act in this holy land of Bharat Ma aka. India. They play metal, pure and simple. If you are academically inclined and insist on putting them into a neat slot, they play technical death metal with touches of metalcore and grindcore. But their lyrics speak of love and universal brotherhood, not death and mayhem: they like to call their brand of music 'Intense Metal'. Of course, you have to listen very hard to detect all that love and universal brotherhood.

Inspired by other Christian heavy metal group like Extol, Mortification, Living Sacrifice, Blood Covenant have made a Covenant in Blood to restore you wretches to the Glory of God. Not a Christian? Not a problem. Amongst all that horrible growling and crashing power chords, you will never know if God is being invoked or the Satan. In any case, the mind numbing decibels will pulverize your pathetic brain and drag you kicking and screaming to whatever god you choose to believe in. Or the devil, if you don't.

The Blood Covenant operate at 200 bmp and higher. That is beats-per-minutes for you morons. That makes them one of the fastest metal acts in India . And they are violent and noisy and blood-curdling.

But above all, the Blood Covenant are BAD. And Ugly. Oh-me-God, are they UGLY! Not a single Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt in that bunch. You go to their concerts to have your eardrums shredded, not to swoon over their good looks.

This repulsive crew consists of the following weirdoes:

Ed Bull: The singer. If you call that singing. He sounds like raging alpha tauro in a Andalusian bullfight. Shortly before the matador is gored to death. Hence the name. Ed Bull started in '91 with Bonesaw, the death metal pioneers in India. One of the first death metal singers in the country.

Wolf: The guitarist. You do not see him on stage, only his blazing right hand, and the axe. The rest is a blur. Wolf has been know, on occasion, to play Jazz, Blues, and even (god forbid) Country. He is seeing a psychiatrist to have this rectified.

Thorn: The sane man in the crowd. He has to be. His steady bass keeps the others from flying into orbit. Levitating rock musicians are not known to be very successful.

Hurricane: the man with the sticks. Frenzied dervish of flying hair. Murderous attacker of the drum-kit. Raving maniac. Terrified drum-kits gather up their bass-pedals and high-hats and try to sneak off the stage when he stalks on to it. He is one of rare drummers who can create the Chinese Butterfly Illusion: When he starts, two shimmering butterfly wings of flying drumsticks sprout around his shoulders. And his feet on the bass-pedals create the 'Cossack artillery regiment practicing after getting drunk on Vodka' illusion. And the crowd keeps bleating pathetically for more.

Warning: The delicately nurtured have been known to experience the loose bladder syndrome when Ed Bull emits his first kidney eviscerating growl. Don't trust yourself? Wear diapers to their concert. Or ensure you are holding a glass of Coke. You can claim you spilled it.

Blood Covenant is washing over these fair shores like a gathering tsunami. Wait. And Watch. It grows bigger by the day. One day, it will inundate this land, and you will be a part of the human wreckage left in its wake. Unless you choose to be a part of it.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Smart As!

This is a set of articles I recently wrote for an Arts Mag in Auckland New Zealand called Smart As!

"Teeth 'n Smiles" at the Titirangi Theatre


Performance Dates: 5th – 16th June
Written by David Hare
Directed by Liz Watkinson

In Rehearsal: Candice de Villiers as Laura and Brian Moore as Arthur
Photo courtesy Liz Watkinson

There is a (possibly apocryphal) story about Keith Moon of 60’s rock band The Who crashing his Rolls Royce into the side the Royal Court theatre, and casually sauntering on to the stage in the middle of a performance and chatting with members of the cast, while the audience gaped. The performance in question? The original 1975 production of David Hare’s “Teeth n’ Smiles”, starring Helen Mirren: a searing look at the madness and excesses of the rock n’ roll years.

June 9th 1969: The rock n’ roll dream is dead. Rock n’ Roll is not going to change the world. What remains is broken relationships, broken egos, and disappointments over what might have been. And drugs. Lots of drugs.

A dysfunctional rock group struggles with their internal conflicts and limitations, to drag themselves from a drug induced stupor on to the stage for one more mindless performance, at one more in an endless, mind numbing series of gigs.

WILSON: Do you know, some woofter comes up to me after the set, says I expectin’ somethin’ altogether more Dionysiac, I says Thursdays we’re Dionysiac, Fridays we’re jus’ fuckin’ awful.
ARTHUR: Right.
WILSON: Not that I care.

Renowned for a series of incisive and politically committed plays looking into various aspects of British society, starting with Slag in 1971, in this early 1975 piece the celebrated British playwright Sir David Hare turns his attention to the bitter-sweet end of the rock ‘n roll era, the ugliness, pettiness and the viciousness behind the power chord and high decibel fuelled hirsute, kaleidoscopic glamour. But it is more than that: at another level, it shows a subtle class struggle between the effete Oxbridge elite and working class lads on the make. Too, it is a sardonic, entertaining, music-laden extravaganza.

Liz Watkinson brings this almost forgotten gem from the past to Titirangi Theatre this June. With a cast of sharp new acting talent and experienced rock musicians, coached by a path breaking and innovative director well known to Titirangi regulars, we are in for a treat. It would be too much to expect Keith Moon to crash into this production with his Rolls Royce, but we are sure Liz and her team will create their own fireworks.

Liz Watkinson took some time off to speak to Sweet As! about this show:

What was it that excited you about this play?
Liz: I’ve wanted to direct this play for a long time. Having grown up in the 1950’s I consider myself lucky to have been around right since the birth of rock and roll and since then the music of each succeeding era has been part of my own personal history. The 60’s of course were an important part of my youth. I loved the bands and the music.

I’ve always been attracted by the wicked humor in this play. I find having music in a play exciting. It adds another very special dimension. I was touched by the darkness at the heart of the play which starts out being wildly comic and gradually becomes very bleak and hopeless as the band self- destructs and the relationships unravel.

What are the key tensions that drive this play? Is it the broken love affair of Arthur (the songwriter) and Maggie (the lead singer), and the disturbance of the status-quo by Laura?
Liz: The key interactions certainly lie with the Maggie, Arthur, Laura love triangle. Also the heavy reliance on drugs, particularly by Peyote, the bass player and Maggie, the lead singer’s out of control consumption of alcohol are both key factors in the band’s decline into chaos.
Have you directed a David Hare play before?
Liz: No, but he’s always been on the short list of plays I want to direct. His plays are so well crafted, the dialogue gets to the heart of the characters and each play really has something to say about the way we live. I have often contemplated directing ‘The Secret Rapture’ and ‘Plenty.’

You have been directing since the 1970’s. Does it still move you?
Liz: Yes, it does. I find the whole process of creating another world on stage utterly engrossing. It’s not just the staging and the interpreting and building the characters, but I like to immerse myself into every facet of the production.
I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t involved in theatre as my mother was a keen amateur actress. I often went to rehearsals with her and was always fascinated. As I grew older I attended classes with Mary Amore and of course I went on to act myself, but directing always attracted me the most. I liked watching different directors at work. Later, I apprenticed myself to as many of them as I could. I learnt something from each one – good or bad. I suppose what motivates me is the magic of the process of creating that other world, having an interpretation and a vision and working in co-operation with the actors and my crew to bring it to life on the stage.

What are you like, in your private life?
Liz: I live in Titirangi, surrounded by the bush and very close to the Manukau Harbor. I never tire of looking at the beauty around me. I am married with 3 grown-up daughters, 3 sons in law, and 6 grandchildren, who are all wonderful friends. In the summer we all camp together on our property at Leigh Harbor and that is always a very special time for us as a family and for the friends who join us there. I am a voracious reader and have a huge collection of books. I am addicted to smoking and cryptic crosswords. I used to paint in oils, but don’t have time for it presently, as for the past few years I’ve concentrated on writing novels. I’m still working on getting published. For some years I practiced astrology and learnt classical piano. I still play for relaxation and love listening to music of all kinds. My husband and I enjoy walking our dog, Jack, having meals, wine and conversation with friends and family, and of course going to movies, opera and theatre. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel overseas quite a bit, but home is definitely where my heart is. As to letting my hair down, I don’t get the chance very often these days, but my favorite way is to dance. When my daughters were young and at home we would often wind up the stereo and really have a great time.

You are very active in the Auckland theatrical scene, aren’t you? Other than directing plays, I mean.
Liz: I am currently President of Titirangi Theatre and have been for many years so along with chairing committee meetings and furthering plans for the improvement of our theatre, I’m pretty active in all the productions, designing and working on sets, and in choosing our programme for the year. It is a lot of work and being an amateur society I don’t get paid, but I love the place and am very committed to seeing it prosper. My exciting project for this year is mounting a production written by one of our members. Being a writer myself, I’m very keen to help other writers so I’ve been very much involved in work shopping this play and getting it to the point where it is ready for the stage.

Pet peeves?

Liz: The thing that moves me deeply is the lack of critical appraisal of amateur productions, as it would greatly benefit directors, actors and of course audiences. I feel strongly that is very shortsighted of the local newspapers not to send drama critics along to view the productions of at least the major amateur societies. Many people are involved in these productions and collectively they attract a huge audience, which in my opinion means that the press is choosing to ignore the interests of a large number of their readership.

Male Belly Dancing, anyone?



Belly dance has little to do with the belly or with feminine seduction. A corruption of the Arabic Raqs Baladi, it just means “folk dance” and in its original form has been performed for centuries in Middle Eastern countries in community fests, with entire families joining in. A theatricalized version called Raqs Sharqi made its way to the US in the late 19th century, and what we know as belly dance today is filtered through the lenses of burlesque, vaudeville and later Hollywood.

But at its core it remains an enthralling and challenging dance form that exercises every muscle group in the body - some that you never knew existed. It is possibly the most fun way of super-toning your body and improving focus and balance: it beats sweating it out in the gym any day. It is also very creative, in that every dance is unique: the dancer interprets the music using his or her body. This is one of the major reasons that women are flocking to belly dance classes all over the world.

And men. Yes: increasingly men are joining belly dance classes in the US and UK, and for much the same reason as women. They accompany their wives and girlfriends to classes, and get intrigued by what they see. Or they run into it in other ways.

This is not as strange as it may seem. Men have been a part of this dance form since its inception. It was Hollywood and Burlesque that made it something else. Most serious belly dance teachers today hark back to the original forms practiced in the Middle East and Turkey, and add elements of Indian and African folkloric dance.

We went in search of a Belly Dance school in Auckland with male students. We found Glennis Jones (stage name: Zahiya). She has had a male student for over five years at her Sahara Middle Eastern Dance School.

Glennis was mesmerized by flowing movements, sheer beauty and grace of Belly Dancing at a very early age, and has been dancing since 18 years. She set up her own school in Auckland 12 years ago.

Five years ago found Robert, born in UK, a PhD in Australia, and recently moved to NZ to take up a position as a research entomologist (studying and naming new species of butterflies and moths) scanning the adult education supplement in the local newspaper. He says: “I wanted to do something original and different, possibly even something slightly rebellious! Belly dance struck me as the ideal choice. A female friend in Australia had taken some classes, so the idea was perhaps already lodged somewhere in the back of my mind.”

With two female friends in tow for moral support, he landed up at Glennis’ class. The moral support wasn’t required. Glennis was only too happy to take him, and he has been there ever since.

Did Glennis have to adapt the movements for Robert (stage name: Roshan)? According to her “Although male belly dancers learn the much same movement vocabulary as female students, the interpretation varies in that the movements can be stronger, sharper, with a more powerful physical presence, in contrast to the feminine presence. It is the interplay of male and female elements that brings a sense of completeness and resolution to any dance, and belly dance is no exception.”

This is what Robert has to say about his experience: “As an academic, I live inside my head. Dance takes me out of my head and forces me to think in a completely different language. I find it this to be the most expressive dance form I have encountered, with a movement vocabulary that encompasses the whole body. Good belly dancers translate music into movement more completely than any other dancers I have seen, and the effect can be ravishing.”

How does his dancing go down with friends? “I have found both my male and female friends to be extremely encouraging, especially those who have seen me dance and have lost any preconceptions about its being a purely feminine dance form.”

Would he recommend it to other men? “I would definitely recommend belly-dance to those with an artistic disposition, persistence, and the ability to get over society's preconceptions of what is 'manly' and what is not. It will make you a better and a bendier man.”

This is what Glennis has to say about Robert (Roshan): “When Robert came to class four years ago, I was delighted. He is amazingly dedicated and talented. I would find him practising intensively over the week, and he quickly became proficient with zills (finger cymbals), cane, and cape. Being a musician, he has an innate understanding and feeling for rhythm and musical interpretation. Roshan is a pivotal member of ‘Sahara Spice’, my dedicated troupe of advanced students with whom I perform all over Auckland. Roshan has advanced to become NZ’s foremost male belly dancer, and his cheeky, charismatic stage presence makes him popular with all audiences.”

Glennis can be contacted at the following address:

Glennis Jones (Zahiya)
Sahara Middle Eastern Dance School
Mob: (027)272 4627

Half-baked at the Comedy Club


Do your friends call you jackass?
Does your wife say your sex life is a joke?
Do your kids scream ‘You must be kidding!’ when you dole out the pocket money?

You know what… they just might be right!

There might be a Pro-Comedian in you somewhere, chafing to come out. Why don’t you beetle over to The Classic, and find out for yourself?

It is a venerable Auckland institution, in the heart of the entertainment precincts on Queens Street. You can’t miss the large, friendly “Comedy” neon. The Classic comedy club has been tickling the Aucklander’s funny bone 1997. Each Monday evening, they allow just about anybody to get on to the stage and try their hand at live comedy. They call it the RAW COMEDY NIGHT. And once a year in April they have the heats of the RAW COMEDY QUEST, to discover NZ’s funniest new face.

It must be terrifying to just walk off the streets and try and be funny in front of a hard-boiled audience. We were curious to know if there are many takers for this challenge, and if anyone has ever succeeded in building a pro career after the experience. We talked to Scott Blanks, director of The Classic.

The Raw Night was inspired by the ‘So You Think You’re Funny’ contest at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It began life as Rookies Night on Wednesdays at the original venue at Kitty O’Brien’s Tavern. When The Classic opened in 1997 it became Raw Night on Mondays. The Raw Comedy Quest began 13 years ago. The first 3 years were staged at Kitty O’Brien’s Tavern, the rest at The Classic. The first ever winner was Bob McLaren who now has his own TV show on the Discovery Channel.

Scott sees it as an investment in the future of the local comedy scene. He says it creates an opportunity for new people to have a go and also becomes one way of launching new comedians who remain in the industry and become the ‘pro’ acts in the future like Tarun Mohanbhai.

We asked Scott if the concept has been successful. He says “The key is to not have any expectations of the entrants and eventual winners. Then I can only be pleasantly surprised by their future development and involvement in our industry. Stand-up comedy is not an easy thing to do so it is important not to create any undue pressure or expectations on new faces.”

What is the audience like at the RAW Nights? “RAW gigs appeal to younger, more adventurous comedy goers looking for a cheap night-out early in the week (Mondays) and, of course, there are always supporters for the acts on stage. By the time a performer becomes a PRO, their friends and family are usually sick of seeing them onstage. PRO nights are for the general comedy going audiences that you would expect anywhere in the world.”

Do you get much audience participation? “Not too much. The audience has come to see a professional comedian at work not another member of the audience. So we discourage audience participation as it is usually not very funny.”

Scott mentioned a number of professional comedians in New Zealand who have developed their acts at The Classic. Some have those who started from RAW COMEDY NIGHT are Dai Henwood, Rhys Darby, Jan Maree, Gish, Benjamin Crellin and Tarun Mohanbhai.

Of course, once in a while a performer freaks out on stage and does something totally unpredictable which can be both funny and tragic at the same time. But Scott says he always give performers a second chance because someone who struggles from their first show can learn a lot and come back better and wiser. On the other hand a performer who does very well on their first gig may never be as good again. He says “You just can’t tell from one gig. Most RAW comedians will spend 6 months to a year doing RAW gigs until they move up to the next level.”

To try out for the Raw Night, call Scott at The Classic on 09 3734321

Graduate from the RAW NIGHT: Tarun Mohanbhai

Tarun Monabhai is one of the bona-fide success stories of the RAW COMDEY NIGHT. The winner of Raw Comedy Quest 1998, Tarun has gone on to build a successful Pro career. Scott Blanks of the Classic has this to say about Tarun “Tarun has done a fantastic job of fully exploiting his comic potential as a stand-up comedian and comic actor. Unlike most comedians he has gone on to create award winning, international touring solo theatre shows opening up another market for his talents beyond the usual comedy clubs.”

We spoke to Tarun about his experience at the Raw Comedy Night. What made him try it out? “I always was a bit of a clown and loved making people laugh. In the early nineties, I started to write a little comedy sketch but found no avenue to vent it. Then I heard on the radio of a pub in Auckland that had comedy nights. I kept going there for a year just to check it out. Eventually I got the courage to try it out myself.”

“Back in those days it was just called open mic, which is now Big Wednesday at the Classic. For me it was extremely nerve racking, as I was terrified of speaking in front of an audience. I remember as a child staying home from school to avoid speech day, only to end up doing it on my own. I could barely hold a conversation with adults. By the way, I was an adult myself at the time.”

What was that first night like? “My first gig was quite triumphant and I have to say I was quite surprised they even listened to me laugh at my anecdotes. I have to admit though that due to the adrenalin rush you do get a second wind. There was also that first night nerves which caused me to curse a lot more than one normally would, so that could also have been a reason for the rapturous laughter. I guess I never will know. But I mean an Indian cussing on stage… most white people were only ever used to the passiveness of Gandhi and their friendly neighborhood shopkeeper. But without a doubt to have people laugh at something one has created is more satisfying than anything I have ever done in my life.”

How did it feel, winning? “I was extremely overwhelmed and nervous at the same time. It was a great feeling. I thought I would be NZ's answer to comedy from that day forward, but I was sadly mistaken. Looking back, I think I had actually peaked.... ha ha”

Tarun says winning the competition gave him the confidence to be involved in more comedy and look at different avenues of comedy. He has since traveled abroad to Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa with his show. He is continuously writing new stuff and is involved in a couple of TV projects.

Tarun still goes down to the Raw Night on occasions as a spectator, when he isn’t there as the MC for the night.
You can catch Tarun next at the Conershop Confessions which is on 29th May- 2nd June

How to tread lightly & live like a shadow

A Photo exhibition by Greg Semu
May 3 - June 2
Mangere Community Arts Centre

Greg Semu is recognized internationally as an important new Samoan artist. Surprisingly, he is a New Zealander, and is based in Auckland. Born 1971 to Samoan parents who had immigrated to New Zealand as small children and had met and married here, Greg grew up thinking of himself as a ‘normal’ New Zealander. His strict third-generation Mormon upbringing and the painfully international atmosphere created by his parents at home (they only ever spoke English at home) reinforced this view. But there was another world outside, one which treated him as an alien: as someone who was, somehow, ‘different’.

This led to the discovery that there was whole another heritage that he had – his Samoan heritage, and he has devoted most of his adult life trying to rediscover that heritage, through the medium of his art: photography. But it wasn’t easy: visits to Samoa led to another sort of alienation: he was seen as an outsider there too, despites attempts to immerse himself into the Samoan ethos by submitting to the painful and deeply spiritual pe’a: The tattooed genealogies and the histories of the Samoan people now armor his flesh like the wings of a flying fox.

In search of a home, Greg eventually found it in the anonymity of a squalid studio in Paris, when he went there on an art grant. Initially however, he felt cut-off from the source of his inspiration: the villages of Samoa. But delving into his past body of work photographing his people in Samoa, he resurrected it into a new oeuvre, painting over them in gold and sepia: The Gold Icon’s, for which he is best known internationally.

He has used this medium to express his disquiet and rebellion at the religious colonization of the people of the Pacific, and other forms of colonization of the mind, body and spirit. His redemption series caused a minor controversy when it was exhibited first at the Biennale d’art contemporain at Lyon in 2001.

His other well known works are his self-portraits of his tattooed body, which gives the phrase ‘body of work’ a whole new meaning.

His prestigious new assignment is creating a mural for the controversial new museum in Paris: Musée du Quai Branly. A brainchild of the French president Jacques Chirac, it was named unassumingly after the area in which it is located, on the banks of the Seine beside the Eiffel Tower, after the other names: “The museum of primitive arts” and “The museum of early indigenous arts of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania” were considered inappropriate.

In this retrospective of his entire oeuvre in the Mangere Community Arts Centre, starting from 1990 when he started publicly exhibiting his photography to his latest works in progress, we can get to see the development and growth of an outstanding photo artist.

Greg Semu took some time off from his busy international schedule to speak to Smart As! about his art.

Can you tell us a bit more about your photo exhibition in Mangere Community Arts Centre?

This is a community based arts centre, so it is not funded very well. So there’s no budget for the artist, so what I propose to do is a retrospective of my commercial and non-commercial work over 10 years, recycling tear sheets from magazines, posters, test strips, and even putting in my poetry and drawings of ideas of photos before I made them. What I am hoping to show is the creative process behind the making of a photograph. So it is like an open diary more than being an exhibition for showing master works for sale. The good thing about this is that emphasis is not on sales, it is an opportunity to go back to the community. A lot of people don’t know what kind of work I do and being an open diary, I can show them my personal and private work as well as my commercial work and magazine work

(from the Gold Icon series)

Will your popular ‘Gold Icon’ series form a part of this exhibition?

What I am thinking of doing is more like a big wall: A giant collage of all my photos and test strips, test prints and posters. What I think I will do is customize some of the images on the wall with gold icons on the montage. Then I'll go in and paint a few of them gold in the collage. The great thing about the Gold Icons is it is beautiful imagery and also makes an important statement about something I feel strongly about: How religion is a big part of the colonization of indigenous peoples. But it is also for the esthetic beauty of it.

Does the name of this exhibition have a special significance?

I made this title up because I had been traveling a lot, couch crashing around the world, and the title is a reference to being nomadic and more mysterious.

By the way, I’ve now invited some more people to exhibit with me - two family members, who are sisters they are: Evotia Tamua Thompson and Eimi Tamua
Because the space was so big I couldn’t do it all myself, so I invited my cousins to exhibit with me.

The second working title of the exhibition is “Photography, a family affair”. Because we are all relatives by blood, and our bloodlines come from the same village in Samoa.

Where are you based now? Paris, New York or Auckland?

I am living between Paris and Auckland, but I am mostly based in Auckland now. I just won an artist residency, and the residency is in Paris from July till Oct of 2007 and so I have been very fortunate to live between these two cities

Does the Mangere Arts Center have a special meaning for you?

I spent many years growing up in South Auckland and South Auckland is poverty stricken: it is working class and lower class New Zealand: Polynesian and Maori and I have a chance to be involved in the community and show that you can have a viable existence as an artist. That the arts is a great way to express yourself and that there are other alternative ways of living other than being just poverty stricken.... Not that I have any money or anything (laughs).

Poverty is a disease of the mind. A false psychology that sabotages the soul internally. Just because you are lacking in material and financial wealth does not mean you are worthless, undesirable and helpless. It does mean you have to be more creative, more resourceful and more forgiving and charitable. You do need to be more conscious and you need too have a bigger vision of harmonious and fruitful future.

In early interviews, you talked about your rebellion at what was done to your people, your anger at colonialism and religious colonization. Do you still feel like that, or are you reconciled now?

I am more reconciled with it but that is because history moves on. Historically it has been a big influence in affecting the psychology of the Pacific and non European peoples. I am no longer like a rebel or politically driven about it any more. Now I realize it has happened, and we have more of an understanding of it and when you understand it more, you are no longer affected by it. I mean you become more conscious of how it is affecting you. I have become more conscious of how colonialism, and particularly religious colonization
has influenced myself and my family and how the tradition or how the psychology has changed over the years and I have become more conscious of it.

Now I have a better understanding of it and why I am thinking this way and not just react without knowing why I think this way.

Colonization has offered lots of good things as well .We have lots to offer each other, positive stuff. I am trying not to focus on the negative, look more on the positive.

Was your earlier work a retaliation against colonialism, or an attempt to go back to your roots?

It was combination of both. Firstly, I was retaliating against colonial pressure and also I was retaliating against the social stigma attached to Polynesian alternative culture: the assumed superiority of the colonizer. The superiority of colonization is what I was rebelling against. At the same time, being alienated within my own culture, I was trying to establish my connection with my roots. But that too was quiet strange because of the displacement over the years, through immigration. I was born here in NZ, my parents had immigrated. Just being born here, that immediately affected my psychology, whether I am conscious of it or not. And when I go back to Samoa, they say ‘you are not from here’. So I am in between the two cultures. I think I am more interested in building bridges between the two and building a new identity with that and moving forward with that

But you must have gone back to Samoa many times now. Do you feel better accepted there now?

I haven’t been to Samoa for a while now. The last time I was there was 2001. My ties are stronger with NZ, obviously because I was born and raised here. The funny thing is that in NZ people will look at you and they see you have a different color and they tell you that ‘No, you are something else’. So it is kind of like a reflection: It is like I am identifying myself from the reflection of other people telling me how I am supposed to be, and that is quite confusing

Perhaps you feel a better identification with the non Caucasian New Zealanders? The Maoris, for instance?

I have spent years trying to find a people to affiliate myself with. Now I am just trying to feel solidarity within myself as a person and that I am a mixture of all of these things. Also, it is an evolution. There’s a new generation out there. Living overseas has also helped to realize that psychology begins within oneself. Of course, I try not to get too infatuated with wanting to be an ‘International Citizen’ (laughs) be an artist of the world (laughs).

You feel alienation everywhere. Is there a place in the world, where you get the feeling ‘This is Home’. Perhaps not in Auckland, not in Samoa …anywhere in the world.

I do feel a strong connection with Paris (laughs) I lived there 4 years...I had this thought last year...I was there December to January of this year...and it came to me that I haven’t found my home, and I that am still looking for my home. But the closest thing to home was living in Paris. Paris is a cosmopolitan metropolitan city and it feels really global. With NZ it feels really isolated... Samoa too feels isolated. In France I feel really connected with the world. I feel: this is Paris and the culture is French, but because it is a modern city, there are real contemporary modern vibes that are really global. It is also that Polynesian culture is really exotic there. There, you could grow and develop whereas I feel here in NZ we have stereotypes already in place and it is hard to outgrow it. In NZ I feel this generation is outgrowing these stereotypes that are in place. There is a lot of resistance and I think it is changing very quickly and hopefully for the better.

I’ve managed to exhibit every year in France since 2000 and they really appreciate the work I am creating and I guess it’s because it is exotic and because I am marrying religious iconography with Pacific iconography, and the French don’t really know much about the Pacific.

Of course, the French do have an understanding of the Pacific, and it is a real French colonial attitude. The French Polynesia is really colonized so much more than some other places. From what I can make out, they really have a negative attitude towards the French Polynesian colony. But NZ and Samoa are independent so they do not immediately have a stereotypical understanding of it. They are open to new ideas because they haven’t got fixed ideas. They are very keen to learn more. They are open to be entertained by what is to them ‘This other Pacific place’.

(Capatilist dictator from the Redemption series)

Can you tell me some more about your piece ‘Capitalist Dictator’, which represents a man in a crucifix-like position surrounded by Samoan and religious iconography.

This was in Paris. I was reworking some prints that I had. The original work is a crucifix, and I reworked it. It was about religious dictatorship in the name of capitalism. The Christian churches are very wealthy, rich institutions. Also, at the time in France there was a lot of turmoil, a lot of rioting. And I thought, this is like a police state! That was influencing me too. France is a very rich country, but it is full of poverty. Very bizarre. There is a contradiction there. All of these things were influencing me.

Do you have any new works on show?

No finished pieces, just works in progress.

What is the direction of your latest work?

I am still doing classical themes. Right now I am doing a series of photographs on San Sebastian. He is the guy with all the arrows sticking out of his body. He was a rebellious Christian saint. He rebelled against the Church, and to make an example of him, they tied him to a tree and shot arrows through him.
It is quite obscure but it is a very beautiful image. I am getting actors and models and I am making theatrical recreations on photographs. I am currently making a new image for the Musée du Quai Branly, which is the new museum in Paris. The work I am making for them is a fictitious battle scene between the colonizers and the natives in NZ in 1800.

Do you have a vision for your artistic growth, in five years, in ten years? Is there new medium you would like to explore?

In the next 5 years, I want to have many books published on my photography. To have mastered my vision of the still image and be fluent in this secret visual language of photography. To be able to communicate with a global audience and to be a great, influential and INSPIRATIONAL artist to my generation and tomorrow’s generation. I would like to be considered a revolutionary provocative, conscious and controversial photographer offering food for thought to the masses or to the few.

Would it be like combining moving images and music of Samoa?

It is one of my goals to continue documenting the progress of Samoan culture, because tourism is making a big influence on the Pacific. It is not the main industry yet but it is making an increasingly bigger impact.

I would like to work with other writers and script writers as I am trying to shoot short films and experimental art films. Ultimately I would like to be able to make a video. At the end I would like to be financially rewarded for my artwork. And I would like to continue traveling. I like the vision that I will continue to live between France, NZ and the Pacific

But that is an excellent question, and I need to keep developing a vision. Right now I am only thinking of the next six months. I would like to just continue my photography, that’s for sure. People find it funny but I do commercial work as well. I have this idea that I want to marry the two. I want to be a commercial art photographer. Either you are a commercial photographer or an art photographer. And I ask, why can’t you be a commercial art photographer? That’s my vision. I want to still be creative and be rewarded not only spiritually but also financially. But money is not the driving force. To create works that will still be creative, thought provoking and beautiful to look at, that is the goal.

Storylines Festival

Storylines Festival of New Zealand Children's Writers and Illustrators
5-10 June 2007

As every year since 1993, Storylines brings together this June children and the authors of the books they love. The Storylines festival takes place this year from 5th to 10th June, and is spread over five cities, multiple schools and events.

The dates and venues of the Auckland events are listed at the end of this article. Other than the Story Tour by participating authors to selected schools, the other two big events are the Seminar and the Free Family Day. The National Final of the Kids Literary Quiz, the heats of which have been going on in various cities in NZ since early March, also takes place on the Family Day in Auckland. Over thirty NZ writers, illustrators and performers are gathering together for these events. In addition, there will be two international literary stars at the Seminar: Mal Peet and Shaun Tan. Of course, NZ’s very own international literary star, Margret Mahy, will be lending her not inconsiderable (literary) weight to the occasion. As will Auckland’s prominent literary figure, Tessa Duder. We do a small feature on Tessa Duder later in this article.

For most children and their parents, the highlight of the festival will undoubtedly be the Free Family Day. It takes place at the Aotea Centre, THE EDGE on 10th June from 10 am onwards. This is where authors and story-tellers will conduct readings, story tellings and performances, and children will be able to chat with their favorite authors. Illustrators will hold workshops and demonstrations, and there will also be lots of fun events for the family like face painting, book-making, calligraphy and puppet-making.

An introduction to the major literary stars at the event:

Mal Peet
The UK based Mal Peet has had an interesting life, having worked as a teacher, an attendant in a hospital mortuary, a builder, a plumber and on a road-building crew in Canada. He has also been a cartoonist and illustrator, and has written academic text-books on poetry. But we know him best as a writer of unusual and gripping novels for young adults - he has produced over 80 books, many in collaboration with his wife Elspeth Graham. His reputation has been firmly established by his 2005 book- Tamar, which won the Carnegie Medal and the 2004 book- Keeper, which won the Branford Boase Award.

Keeper, as well as his latest book-The Penalty, use football as a background, but are not really typical football novels. Keeper deals with the supernatural and has fantasy elements. It revolves around a young boy in the Brazilian jungles and a ghost footballer. Tamar goes in a completely different direction and deals with two intervening stories set in different times: Two secret military operatives behind enemy lines during World War II, and the attempts of the granddaughter of one of them to uncover the secret of their operation.

Shaun Tan
The Australia based Shaun Tan is a freelance artist and author, and has produced a vast range of well-loved and critically acclaimed picture books for children.

Shaun has received numerous awards for his works, amongst them: the CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award for The Rabbits, the CBCA Honor Book for Memorial and the Crichton Awards for illustration for The Viewer. He has also received the 2001 World Fantasy Best Artist Award for his entire body of work.

Shaun began his career as a teenager with illustrations for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines. Over the years, he has built an enviable reputation for complex and gorgeously drawn picture books, which stand as works of art in their own right, and leave a lasting impression on their readers: they are enjoyed by adults as much as children. For Shaun, the images come first. The text is there to string the images together, and add another layer to the story, which is largely told by the pictures.

His books deal with deep issues. The Rabbits is an Orwellian allegory on the rape of the environment by the greedy, and his latest book The Arrival deals with experience of emigration.

Margret Mahy

As New Zealand’s best loved author- not just of children’s fiction, but of fiction- full stop, Margaret does not really need an introduction. After struggling for many years, she was first ‘discovered’ by an American editor, Sarah Chockla Gross, who was instrumental in getting A Lion in the Meadow published in 1968. After that, there was no looking back for her. Over the years she has written over 120 titles, been translated into 15 languages, and has won national and international acclaim and numerous awards including: The Carnegie Medal (The Haunting; The Changeover), the Young Observer Fiction Prize (The Tricksters, 1986); the Italian Premier Grafico Award (The Wind Between the Stars, 1976) and the Dutch Silver Pencil Award (The Boy Who Was Followed Home, 1977).

Possibly the most prestigious of them: in 1993 she was made a member of the Order of New Zealand, New Zealand's highest honor, which is limited to 20 living persons at any one time. Her citation reads: 'She is regarded as one of the foremost authors of children's literature and is said to be one of the best living authors in the English language'.

Margret’s books are works of pure fantasy, filled with humor, impossible situations, parody and satire wrapped in the most delectable of English. Criticized in early years for not having a New Zealand element in her books, which she ascribes to a childhood reared on British books, she has overcome it and her later books have been increasingly more deeply rooted in New Zealand.
Details of the Auckland Events
(Updated as on 21st April)

International guests:
UK - Mal Peet (author)
Australia - Shaun Tan (author/illustrator)

Auckland Free Family Day
Aotea Centre, THE EDGE
10 June 2007

Margaret Mahy (author)
Lorraine Orman (author)
Kelly Gardiner (author)
Maria Gill (author)
Bill Nagelkerke (author)
David Elliot (author/illustrator)
Paula Green (poet)
Daryl Crimp (author/illustrator)
Samer Hatem (illustrator)
Lamia Aziz (illustrator)
Gavin Bishop (author/illustrator)
Tanya Batt (storyteller/author)
Bruce Potter (illustrator)
Lindy Fisher (illustrator)
Sandra Morris (illustrator)
Miranda Harcourt (author)
Helen Bacon (illustrator/storyteller/puppeteer)
Moira Wairama (storyteller/author)
Tony Hopkins (storyteller)
Martin Baynton (author/illustrator)Tessa Duder (author)
Tanya Batt (storyteller/author)

Heritage Hotels Seminar Series
Wednesday 06 June 2007
Chair - Bill Nagelkerke
Featuring Shaun Tan (Australia) and Mal Peet (UK)
Tickets: Storylines Member/Student with ID $25; Non-member $35
Ticket price includes wine/juice and nibbles prior to seminar.
Tickets on sale from mid-April from:
Jabberwocky Children's Bookshop in Auckland

Kids' Lit Quiz 2007
National Final 10 June
Aotea Centre, THE EDGE at
Storylines Festival Free Family Day

Story Tour Auckland

Due to the number of requests in recent years for schools and early childhood centers to be visited by the Story Tour, Storylines Festival will endeavor to visit many of the schools and early childhood centers who have applied unsuccessfully in past years.

Gavin Bishop (author/illustrator)
Bruce Potter (illustrator)
Helen Bacon (illustrator/storyteller/puppeteer)
Lorraine Orman (author)
Maria Gill (author)
Bill Nagelkerke (author)
David Elliot (author/illustrator)
Daryl Crimp (author/illustrator)
Moira Wairama (author/storyteller)
Tony Hopkins (storyteller)

For more information:-

Storylines Festival of New Zealand Children's Writers & Illustrators
Crissi Blair - Festival Manager
Mobile 021 163 2496
Christine Young - Executive Officer

Getting to know Tessa Duder

For the Storylines festival, we decided to profile the Auckland based author of young-adult fiction, Tessa Duder. Tessa lives in Mission Bay, and is amongst Auckland’s most prominent literary figures. She will be one of participating authors at the Free Family Day.

Tessa Duder was a champion swimmer in her teenage and early youth, winning numerous medals and eventually the NZ Swimmer of the Year in 1959. Then she married and moved to London and later to Pakistan. She worked for some time as a feature writer for Daily Express. She returned to New Zealand in 1971 and her first novel followed in 1982: Night Race to Kawau. This was followed by Jellybean, and the Alex quartet. The first book in the quartet, simply titled Alex, went on to become New Zealand’s best selling work of fiction, ever. There was even a movie version by Tom Parkinson.

Numerous other award winning novels followed. Tessa has also published numerous non-fiction books, scripts, picture books and has also acted as editor. An important non-fiction book is a biography of Margaret Mahy in 2005, entitled ‘Margaret Mahy - a writer's life’.

Amongst her numerous awards are NZ Library Association Esther Glen Medal on three occasions, the Margaret Mahy Medal for a distinguished contribution to children's literature in 1996 and the Gaelyn Gordon Award for a Much-Loved book in 2005, for
Night Race to Kawau.

Her most recent books are: ‘Too Close to the Wind and other stories’ which is a collection of her best short stories, and Carpet of Dreams, illustrated by Mark Wilson, which is her first true picture book. It is about a girl who discovers a carpet in an attic and goes on a magical carpet ride through time, from today’s New Zealand to Turkey in the 19th Century.

Tessa’s novels have been noted for having strong female protagonists, high drama, and for being firmly rooted in New Zealand.

Tessa took some time off from her busy schedule to talk to Smart As!

You are known for writing books firmly rooted in the NZ ethos. Is this something you work hard at, or is it something that comes naturally?
Twenty-five years ago, when I started, I saw my books as helping redress the pitifully small number of books being published for and about Kiwi kids, set in New Zealand. Now there's less need, happily. My next novel looks like being set in New Zealand and Italy.

As a writer of children's novels (or young adults to use the 'politically correct' term), do you feel in tune with teenagers of today, whose experience is so hugely different from what you must have experienced in your own teenage? How do you bridge the gap in your writing, and form a bond with them?
Older and established children's writers continually ask themselves this question. We visit schools, seek out opportunities to meet and (especially) listen to the young, try to be aware of and understand their youth culture, what turns them on; and that's all you can do, really. Deep down, though, there are certain constants which remain universal and timeless: teenagers' capacity for love, fear, anxiety, loyalty, laughter, work, their delicate balancing act between home, school and their future. I certainly don't go along with the idea you sometimes hear that younger writers (in their 20s and 30s) must be more attuned to writing for teens - you only need to look at Margaret Mahy, Philip Pullman, John Marsden, Paul Jennings, David Hill (all getting on a bit) to see the fallacy in that argument.

What was your experience like in previous Storylines festivals? Did you feel a special bonding, interacting directly with your 'invisible' readers?
Storylines Festivals have been an annual highlight of my year since the first in 1993, partly because I've been involved in the decision-making and management since day one. So they've been individually wonderful for me, but also deeply rewarding to see 30 or 40 authors and illustrators surrounded by literally thousands of young, enthusiastic readers. The struggle to get funding year by year has always been worth it, when the kids have gone home and the organisers sit down in the afterglow.

Do you find a significant difference between the publishing industry today, and as it was when you started? Is it significantly more difficult for a new author to get a break today than in earlier times?
It was hard 25 years ago and it's harder now, as New Zealand publishing, both for adults and children, has come of age and there's simply more competition all round. The traditional role and power of the editor has changed: sales departments have more say in what gets published, marketing departments look for 'author angles' to compete for the necessary media publicity. And the increasing focus, mostly overseas but happening here too, on a small number of over-paid rock star authors is not good news for the established, respected but underpaid writers who make up the bulk of any publisher's list. But there's good news too: more public funding for authors, more festivals, more publishing, bigger readerships, a Government which actively promotes the arts and letters.

Do you have a word of advice for someone wanting to get started as an author of children's novels?
Many people think they can write a publishable children's story or novel because they have grandchildren, or make up stories for their own children. That's a good start, but it's only a start. Anyone serious about being published should first spend some time in bookshops and libraries, reading what has been, and what is being, published. Attend courses in writing for children; seek out help and advice from local authors, writing groups, books on writing for children. It's a crowded and complicated genre, far more than writing for adults, and aspiring authors need to how how and where to present manuscripts to publishers, even how to choose the right publisher, to have any chance of success. Above all, persist! I've known writers who've put in five years or more of consistent work, writing and re-rewriting, before their first break.

You have written a book about Margret Mahy and must have gotten very close to her at that time. Do you still often get together and 'talk books'?
We exchange phone calls and/or and emails occasionally, but I know she has many calls on her precious time, from family, her fans world-wide, the literary community, her undiminished commitment to her own work, so I try not to add to her pressures. Her contribution to children's literature has been immense, hence the Hans Christian Andersen Medal she won last year. There's no greater world recognition than this.

Are there any exciting projects that you are working on right now?
I'm working on some adult short stories, an adult/YA novel, an anthology.

What are the books on your bedside table right now?
I'm reading Sara Wheeler's fine biography of Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard; a fascinating book about music and the brain, why music is so important; a book of Puccini's collected letters; two or three children's novels. It's impossible to keep up with everything I'd like to read, so I choose carefully.

Future plans?
Travel to UK and France in September, another research trip to a very exciting place I'm not at liberty to divulge, in November.

A message for the young un's who will come to meet you on family day?
Authors love meeting their readers and love feedback! So Family Day is just as much a thrill and pleasure for them as for the readers, with 20,000-plus people all sharing the joy of books. FABULOUS!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Target Setting-2

Keywords: Humor, Cartoons, Geek, Workplace humor, Software, Computers, Music, Rock