An artwork promoting anti-vaccination messages - described by one health expert as "propaganda … crafted to mislead" - is part of a taxpayer-funded exhibition now open to the public.
Piha artist Tracey Tawhiao was given $74,850 to create the work for the Wahine Māori: The Art of Resistance exhibition, which opened at NorthArt gallery in Auckland's Northcote on Sunday.
The free exhibition, which requires a vaccination pass for entry, is curated by Tawhiao and fellow artist Robyn Kahukiwa and runs until May 15.
Her work is titled "Missed Information", a reframing of "misinformation" to instead reflect what she believed was the Government not sharing important information.
It was created after hearing from those who had suffered harm from vaccines, from employers' fearful understanding of Covid-19 and from professionals denying the harm of vaccine, Tawhiao said.
She had one vaccination but after an "unpleasant reaction" felt "gaslighted" when she decided not to have her second dose.
At the opening, people thanked her "for voicing what had been silenced in them through the fear of job loss and being labelled anti-vax, purely because their preference was not to vaccinate", she said.
She applied for the $74,850 given towards the exhibition by Creative New Zealand, a Crown entity governed by the Arts Council, Tawhiao said.
"If you believe this [stance] prevents me from having a voice in opposition to the Government, that's mindless … that tax money belongs to the people.
"We're all applying to a pool we have all created. It should never stop us having a voice."
Tawhiao's work was created after a proposal for an exhibition by 12 Māori women who have opposed colonisation through their art was supported, with "no indication of misinformation" in the application for funding from the Arts Grants Ngā Toi Māori pool, Creative NZ chief executive Stephen Wainwright said.
"Art is an important means of expressing opinions, provoking discussion and debate, and can be a tool for protest. Under our governing legislation, Creative New Zealand has a role in upholding the right to artistic freedom."
They also recognised Tawhiao's right to express her beliefs, although NorthArt didn't share them, the gallery's director Jessica Pearless said.
Vaccinologist Helen Petousis-Harris said art was important for provoking thought about issues.
"But are we in new territory when misinformation is being used with things that are not true, or deeply manipulative and misleading, being used in a way that's supposed to provoke people's thinking?"
Tawhiao's piece was a collection of "classic anti-vaccine arguments and fallacies … crafted to mislead", some "blatantly untrue", others "more subtle" and designed to sow doubt.
One message depicted was that the chief executive of Pfizer 'admits the first two doses provide little protection if any, so he can then reel us in to the third dose which apparently makes it a little better now', Petousis-Harris said.
"This is a common thing people with this agenda do, they use the word 'admits' … because it means it's 'something they're being forced to admit'.
"And the 'apparently makes it a little better now' line - it actually makes it a lot better. The language … it's propaganda."
Another statement she challenged was one saying it was negligent to ignore vaccinated people as a possible source of transmission when deciding public health measures, said the University of Auckland associate professor, who's been involved in immunisation-related research since 1998.
"I mean, absolutely true. But that [message is] designed to suggest to people that [the vaccinated] are ignored, when of course they're not … we keep saying they're less likely to transmit it, but they still do."
Vaccination was a safe and effective way to lower the chance of catching Covid-19 and, if still infected, suffering serious illness from it.
Tawhiao said she felt a duty to "ask the hard questions about vaccine harm" because she believed media weren't, and that experts were being silenced.
"A mass narrative must always be questioned and debated to ensure we mitigate all harm where possible."
Vaccine mandates also needed to be challenged, she said, calling them illegal based on a High Court's justice's decision last month that vaccination mandates for police and Defence Force employees weren't a "reasonably justified" breach of the Bill of Rights.
"My questions, my thoughts in my art are all reflections of a growing concern with the side effects of vaccine and the unmitigated harm. My art is the voice of the growing minority as more and more harm is experienced."
Petousis-Harris said she was "bitterly disappointed" taxpayer money had been used to create an artwork that displayed examples of misinformation that had negatively impacted the public health response to Covid-19, including contributing to the inequity in Māori vaccination rates.
Just under 88 per cent of Māori aged over 12 are double vaccinated, with 58.9 per cent of those eligible for a booster having received one, compared to rates of 95 per cent and 72.8 per cent respectively nationally.
Booster shots are vital for lowering the chance of catching the highly-infectious Omicron variant, and being seriously sickened by it, the Ministry of Health has said.
Tamariki Māori are also trailling the national vaccination rate for 5 to 11-year-olds, with 34.4 per cent having received one dose, compared to 53.7 per cent nationally in the same age group.
Her advice to exhibition-goers was to look at the work as a "piece of art" only, Petousis-Harris said.
"It's not a display of facts."
The Herald asked Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Carmel Sepuloni her views of a taxpayer-funded artwork promoting anti-vaccination views, some based on misinformation.
In a statement, Sepuloni said the Creative NZ funding was awarded "on the basis of an overall exhibition pitch, not specific artworks".
"I have not seen the exhibition but my understanding is that the vast majority of the exhibition was not focused on Covid in any way, but more about activism portrayed through art by Māori wahine."