Reflect? I don’t think I’ve done much except reflect on this course over the past 13 weeks, and I would imagine that by now I’ve thoroughly bored my family, friends, and colleagues.
The course has genuinely changed the way I think, and I’d like to comment on two items in particular (there were many others).
On Design and Accessibility
Here is a comment taken from my notes:
Every design decision for a built environment is necessarily an active choice. It’s a choice between providing access to people who are living with disability, or, choosing to disadvantage them by denying or restricting their access.Notes on Session 2: Curious Instances
Looking at the built spaces around me, for example my own home and workplace, I find myself constantly evaluating the design choices that were made.
My home has stairs, and no access to the upper storey – most two storey homes in New Zealand are like this. The only ways into my house have steps, and none of the fixtures and fittings enable use by disabled people.
At work, we have lifts, but in the event of a fire we have no other means of egress except stairs in tight stairwells. The whole office is (apparently) “smart”, which in real terms means that even the light switches are tiny recessed push buttons. None of our ultra-modern printers are able to be used by people in wheelchairs, because their touch panels are too high and angled upwards.
And so on.
These are just basic examples, but illustrative. Design is always a choice – we should be aware of the enabling or disabling effects of those choices.
Finally on this topic, one thing I regret about my project was that I did not explore how my piece could have been made more meaningful and accessible to people living with disability. This is something I can see having an influence on me as I develop as an artist.
The second item I’d like to note is how the course challenged me to reflect on my own relationship with Māori.
Yes, I’m Pākehā, but my history in New Zealand now feels connected, and I want to know more about the full history of our country and Oruamatoro / Days Bay, and learn what it means to have an equitable and interdependent relationship with other New Zealanders.Extract from my presentation to the class
Sessions 7 and 8 were a turning point, and tough. The conversations felt far too polarized, and reading back through my notes and reflecting on them, they still do. Colonization had negative effects on Māori. New Zealand’s biodiversity suffered negative effects from both Māori and European colonization. These are two facts, and it’s not “whataboutism” to discuss them together. I doubt I will ever move beyond my extremely strong feeling that this should be a more nuanced conversation.
If I am to engage adequately with these difficult topics, then I must learn more about Māori. It’s naïve and crass to debate things otherwise, and it’s also far too easy to be dismissed if you can’t “show your working”. As a start, and supported by my employer, I am learning Te Reo Māori. I know from personal experience of life in Japan that you can’t hope to fully understand a culture if you can’t speak the language. I will also be taking advantage of the many opportunities at work to understand and work alongside Māori – something that I know my organization values and supports.
So, why did I not learn Te Reo Māori 10 years ago? That’s a the reflection in and of itself: I don’t think I was willing or able to step outside my European bubble and really connect to the full history and culture of New Zealand.
In summary, this was a fascinating, frustrating, humbling course. Thanks for the opportunity.