Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Slow Death of Kiwiana?

In this article we talk to NZ designer Shann Whitaker of Tantrum Design who has recently declared he thinks the popularity of Kiwiana is just another trend, and a perhaps a fad that is on the verge of dying.  

Whitaker argues that Kiwiana has not just been a relabelling of what is unique to or easily identified as being from New Zealand as "Kiwiana" but a trend that has perhaps done its day. It's an interesting contribution to the debate around whether kiwiana is just another trend that has now possibly been done to death or have we just taken to calling cultural products from NZ that were always there and will always be for sale (tikis for example) with the previously kitschy term Kiwiana?

NZ Designer Shann Whitaker
Kiwiana "Bloated and Swollen", needs "A Cleanout"

Whitaker says "Like every good idea and trend, the good times must come to an end."  Although Kiwiana hasn't yet actually died "It has just become rather bloated and swollen, to a point that every shop, chemist, two dollar store or fair stall has something Kiwiana in it."

Whitaker says that the most important factor in the decline of Kiwiana is time, "it has probably been a good decade since the scene really took off". He adds "Sure, you can still find great creative NZ themed gifts but lets face it, New Zealand has a limited amount of iconic imagery, flora and fauna. There are only so many different ways you can dress up a Fantail before you start going a little crazy. I used to joke that we needed to find some kind of new bird or mammal just so we had something new to design. These same icons have been designed to death now and the regurgitating of the same material is becoming stale."

According to Whitaker Kiwiana needs a "clean out".   He says the "sheer number of creatives trying to design in a small market has become over populated. Copycats, the faux designers ripping off new ideas and selling them at low low prices to cheap stores do not help the market."

Kiwi design is more important than kiwi made to Whitaker

Although he is talking about giftware and design store products more than kiwiana art specifically Whitaker makes an interesting distinction between kiwi made and kiwi designed but manufactured overseas and calls for the buying public to "embrace creatives for their ideas not just their manufacturing abilities."

"I was 100% NZ Made for six years", he says, "but as my ideas changed and I got more adventurous with my products I realised that I was restricted by price. I feel that as New Zealanders our strengths are in our ideas and creativeness. We cannot compete with the low wages and long hours that make China and India  powerhouses of the manufacturing world."

In NZ Fine Prints part of the broader market for cultural products from New Zealand we still believe that the rebranding of the work of NZ artists as kiwiana art is mostly a blurring of the definition of "fine art" from New Zealand and popular or commercial art in the public's perception.  However Shann's assertion that the days of derivative - or less charitably copycat - "kiwiana" style designs being sold everywhere on everything is coming to an end (even if the name still sticks to art that has nothing in common with buzzy bees and four square man beyond being created in the same country) does seem to be common sense too.  What we would be concerned about would be if Kiwiana was both a trend and a blurring of definitions that had the result of quality work by NZ's best artists being dismissed in the near future as merely Kiwiana that is no longer fashionable due to the factors Shann has identified.

Is kiwiana just a trend? If so is "Kiwiana" a trend that is dying? Please leave a comment below.

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