Pacific, Pakeha and proud

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Lester Hall is holding an ongoing conversation about what being Pakeha is.
Lester Hall is holding an ongoing conversation about what being Pakeha is.

Race relations is one of the driving factors behind artist Lester Hall and he's copped it from people who aren't shy about saying what they think of his work, being labelled a white supremacist to Maori apologist to everything in between.

Some of his most popular prints include Cheeky Little Darkie, based on the infamous comment by the late Sir Paul Holmes, the Royal Tour, commemorating the Queen's jubilee last year, and Ngati MotherF ... , a comment on Hone Harawira's political outbursts.

His exhibition, Pakeha, opens at A+E Gallery in Napier tomorrow.

Many New Zealanders don't identify as Pakeha or even like the word, but Hall is proud to call himself pakeha and sees himself as part of an evolving culture.

"My exhibition is an ongoing conversation, trying to discover what that (Pakeha) is, from what I call easy entry to the conversation, starting with Kiwiana, to far more theological and philosophical work."

Wellington born and raised, Hall arrived in Auckland a little over 20 years ago after a stint designing T-shirts. He applied for a job as a maintenance man at the Auckland Institute and Museum and was asked to become a design and display technician instead.

Being a member of a crew of five working with the team redeveloping the Maori area led to a revelation. Until then most of what he'd heard about Maori culture was along the lines of mutterings about "tattooed savages" and how they, along with other indigenous peoples, should be grateful for the superior culture brought by colonisation.

Watching brown painted carvings come back to life, learning how Maori used the available technology to make waka float, and handling a beautiful cloak made him appreciate Maori culture in ways he'd never thought of before.

He also began thinking of himself as a Pacific Islander, and later on, Pakeha, and created works on tapa cloth he shared with the Tongan and Samoan community at an exhibition. "I realised being pakeha was a sound cultural fact in its own right and recognised that things Maori affect the way I am and think - and that affected my design style."

For the past 20 years Hall has supported himself through his art and in the early 90s when he began, appropriation of other cultures, particularly Maori culture was - and still is - a hot topic. By becoming informed and being able to give reasons for what he does, Hall hopes he can inform others, inspire them to talk about where this country is heading, and at the same time dispel at least some of the blame and resentment that makes for great headlines but takes race relations nowhere.

"I'm appealing to decent, sensible Pakeha who are liberal and believe in equality. I want them to up their game. The basis for my ideas is do we want to make our country how we want it or let things happen to us?"

The aim of being a social commentator wanting to start conversations through his art is to make pakeha who are speaking with Maori and talking about their country feel informed, not want to keep dropping it into the too-hard basket.

"If people could find it as groovy as rugby or the America's Cup we would all be excellent at it."

Pakeha, by Lester Hall, tomorrow until October 20, A+E Gallery, Napier. For more info, visit

- Hawkes Bay Today

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