Essay

At Home and in the Studio: Jade Townsend

The first rāhui set in motion a range of peculiar circumstances for my whānau. I had just returned to Aotearoa in February with my husband and kid. We hadn’t had time to decide where we might like to live and work before quickly settling into accommodation in Takapuna for rāhui. In terms of personal items, we only had the suitcases we bought on the plane – not many toys, art materials or books. This fostered a huge sense of rediscovery for us as we took the opportunity to educate ourselves on the pre-European history of Aotearoa, connect with Māori artists/writers/thinkers and fill our whare with the joy of practising te reo Māori and waiata. We reindigenised.

My current project “Reindigenising my Desires” brings together decorative handmade interventions with debris gathered during rāhui alongside materials I already had. The cast-off materials - used fishing rope, sheep skin from an old car cover, surplus postcards from a charity store, packaging and left-over house paint – are reimagined as living entities with vibrancy and energy. In te ao Māori you describe this energy as mauri. 

When I began to study the Māori history of protest I saw the activation of ancient shapes and symbols used as warning calls, flags for power, the use of whero for urgency, stitching, embroidery, labour, skill and the resourcefulness of using materials to hand. This imagery gave me comfort and inspiration. When I unify materials and consider their impact, I like to imagine I am making a placard. Placards are sites for emotion and a strategy to connect the present to the past and future. I want these placards to represent an indigenous future while also challenging what contemporary Māori art can be.

Making at home is really hard but the reality for many artists that have young kids. Most days we don’t even get fully dressed before 
we paint or draw together - the courier still gets a shock. Making art at home everyday with my whānau is a temporary thing so my aim is to enjoy the disruption (and often destruction) of it all. I hope that the textures Hayes-Anaru is exposed to now put him in good stead for his relationships with nature, the handmade and the discipline required to follow your dreams. 

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Jade Townsend is a visual artist working at the intersection of her Māori, Pākehā and British heritage. She describes it as a ‘non-fixed duality that ebbs and flows with contradictory cultural forces every day. My spirit – my wairua – connects to many seemingly disparate fields.’  She was born and raised in Aramoho, Whanganui before moving to Huyton, Liverpool UK where she lived as a teenager. These two places are half a world away from each other but share the reputation and statistics of any low socio demographic and ethnic minority area. Through art she records her experiences of looking into and peering out from the cracks in these societal backyards: exploring unity-by-way-of-materiality to become collage, painting and textiles.