When news of the arrest of Tuhoe activist Tame Iti under NZ's anti-terrorism laws reached Auckland pop art studio Weston Frizzell they were "really shocked, as were most people who knew Tame". There has been a long and artistically productive collaboration between the veteran Maori activist and the two artists who collaborate as Weston Frizzell, Mike Weston and Otis Frizzell.
With a series of four prints Weston and Frizzell are asking "Who are the real terrorists?". Weston says "The government were looking for a chance to flex their new draconian laws that had been created in response to US foreign policy bullying and Tame copped the full force of it."
“Yeah Right” is a satirical adaptation of the popular Tui Beer advertising campaign that uses sarcasm in a humorous social commentary. In this artwork Mike Weston and Otis Frizzell present their version of Tui’s iconic ad, substituting an AK47 assault rifle for the usual perch branch. In Yeah Right, Tutu replaces both the Tui Beer branding, and also the social statement that is usually featured in the Tui beer billboard.
Dr Tutu is the name Tame Iti adopted when DJing on his various alternative radio slots. It features in the title of works Tututables, and Tututime 2004, and the logo featured on the painted canvas works exhibited. In Maori, (and most if not all Polynesian languages also) Tutu has a multiplicity of meanings such as ‘revolution’, ‘to meddle’, ‘arson’ and ‘sedition’. Tutu and the glyphic logo formed by the inverted numerals 22 (see below) have been recurring motifs in Weston Frizzell’s work since 2004. The message it conveys relates directly to the arrest of Tame Iti and other Tuhoe members under the terrorism suppression act. If it were spelled out it might read: “A terrorist revolution? Yeah, right.” Yeah Right is a fine art archival inkjet print on Hahnemule 100% cotton rag paper, edition of 180.
“I fully support the redesign of the flag,” Otis Frizzell told Wellington's Capital Times after Iti desecrated the NZ flag with a shotgun blast before the Waitangi Tribunal in 2005. “Whether it was right or wrong [Iti] was redesigning it in his own special way. The bullet holes in this work represent what Tame did to the flag." Edition of 180 prints, handprinted then signed and numbered.
The term Pakehake contains two possible meanings. In Maori the addition of the suffix ke transforms Pakeha into an expletive, a curse , an insult. Additionally Pake means flag and Hake means torn, thus the title ‘Torn Flag’. Pa Ke Ha Ke is Weston Frizzell's new version of the New Zealand ensign complete with bullet holes.
The print "Dr Tutu featuring Tame Iti" is a combined image of four paintings from the 2004 exhibition at Mike Weston's "The Area" gallery. From left to right Whenua, Aotearoa Not for Sale, Horimoni and Tututime. Weston and Frizzell conceived an imaginary contemporary scenario where no colonisation had occurred and devised a number of graphic motifs and symbols such as you might find on road markings or signs or perhaps corporate branding responding to this notion.
Mike takes up the story "I was approached by an American couple who wanted to record a spoken word project with Tame. I made four pieces for an art / CD package. I figured it wasn’t going to be a big seller but had some potential to go the distance if it was leaned more in an art direction so I started jamming ideas for a special package CD which ultimately ended up being an art exhibition concept, with a CD attached to each artwork." Mike continues "I had an idea of illustrating Tame’s face in the style of the 4 square man, in a nod to Dick Frizzell's Grocer with Moko, so I called my good mate Otis Frizzell, who I’d been managing on and off for a few years, to do the illustration of that and he nailed it so well that I asked Otis to collaborate on the art side of it 50:50 with me. We found ourselves enthusiastically throwing paint around all over the place, jamming a lot of ideas, running them past Tame to make sure he was alright with it, and mostly he was and we made four series of canvasses each in editions of 22, presenting visual representations of each of the musical works [also available for download at Amplifier] on the CD."
The first time Otis had met the Tuhoe Maori activist was back in the 1990s. Frizzell had become friends with a group of hip hop artists, including DLT and Che-Fu during the time Frizzell was performing as half of hip hop duo MC OJ and the Rhythm Slave. DLT and Che-Fu would take international artists to a Marae on Tuhoe land, in the eastern North Island for what Otis describes as “a taste of true Maoriness - we’d give them a dose of old school Maori – it is pretty awesome to be a European and be invited in there.”
The translation of the Dr Tutu persona into visual forms such as the inverted "22" came about as Weston was using the "I Ching regularly as a kind of metaphysical guide and mirror during this time". Weston repeatedly found himself at "the 22nd hexagram passage, Pi (or Grace). The sentiment expressed in the Wilhelm translation “things should not unite abruptly or ruthlessly” seemed to fit the bicultural nature of the musical collaboration very well, and the coincident 22, resonated with the Dr Tutu name of the project. Of course there’s the additional Catch 22 reference. It stuck." Weston also says, "I noticed that the number 22 revolved 180 degrees created a glyphic logo that evoked a double Manaia, a Maori influenced Hindu Arabic form that in an abstract sense embodied many of the ideas of bicultural collaboration we were working with."
Frizzell and Weston started putting that symbol on artworks that spoke of those issues - beginning with the 88 canvasses in the Dr Tutu show. The inverted 22 also appears on prints outside of the series of works discussed in this article, such as Behave and Four Seasons Winter. Says Weston "I figured it would stick in peoples' minds because they would be wondering why it was upside down".
The full line up of the "We are" letter paintings were prepared to show at Auckland's "Original Art Show" in 2010 when Weston Frizzell were the featured artist guests. In "Give it Back" the letters are arranged to spell the word "Urewera". This print is available in a tiny edition of just, you guessed it, 22 - the message regarding Tuhoe's land in the Urewera is to "Give it Back".
It is significant that Otis Frizzell's collaboration on the Dr Tutu project with Mike Weston established the new working relationship that evolved into the now high profile Weston Frizzell pop art brand.
Art doesn't happen in a socio-political vacuum, our visual culture is shaped by and responds to current events. We hope the art buying public will show their support for artists such as Weston and Frizzell who are responding thoughtfully and creatively to current events in Aotearoa/New Zealand by purchasing prints from the Weston Frizzell series of contemporary editions.