Taking Kiwi culture to the world

July 2013

 

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Education Review talks to Karl Rangikawhiti Leonard and  Scott Wilson, two New Zealand Fulbright Scholars currently in the United States teaching about their cultural passions of Maori art and New Zealand cinema respectively.

Karl Rangikawhiti Leonard – teaching courses in indigenous art traditions at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana

Karl Leonard has been on the road. We tracked him down after he and his whānau arrived back at their home in Lakeside Montana after 24 days of travel. He’s worked out that the distance they have travelled equates to 87 hours on the road, or to put it into Kiwi terms, Te Reinga to Invercargill return, twice!

The trip was significant as Leonard, in addition to visiting family friends in Wisconsin, was returning the Red Cloud Indian School Museum exhibition to South Dakota, after it had been lent to Kalispell, Montana in October last year. The exhibition was hoped to help form a relationship between Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell and its Indian neighbours, Salish Kootenai Community College in Pablo and Blackfeet Community College in Browning. The aim was for each of the colleges to take a turn in hosting the Red Cloud exhibition to collectively celebrate Indian art and awareness of their indigenous neighbours.

Leonard’s involvement with the exhibition is indicative of the sort of work he is engaged with, as part of his Fulbright scholarship.

He has been primarily working with a native Indian audience or those who have an interest in him as an indigenous person and the Māori people he represents.

“This residency has reinforced my belief of where we as Māori sit as forerunners culturally, artistically, and linguistically as a people. It has enabled me to enter into Indian communities on their invitation and initiation,” says Leonard.

Leonard says he initially had reservations about applying for the scholarship, due to the length of time it would take – 10 months or so. He was approached by

Garry Nicholas, General Manager of Toi Māori, based in Wellington, who thought Leonard would be a good candidate given his arts and academic background and involvement, participation, and knowledge on things Māori.

After some persuasion from his wife, Leonard applied and was successful. He arrived in Flathead Valley on 1 August 2012 and was followed two months later by his whānau – his wife and four children aged six to 11 years. Fulbright paid travel for Leonard and his wife, and the couple paid for their children with assistance from Toi Māori. The family are there until 21 June this year.

 Leonard places great emphasis on being there and suggests this cannot be replicated by collaboration via modern technology, which he describes as “a western model of networking and sharing”.

“Collaboration is based on worldview, culture, and kinship, which for most parts must be done face to face. For most indigenous people, you cannot create a real relationship without an invitation from them first and knowledge of how to carry and conduct yourself appropriately culturally,” he says.

Leonard highly recommends the opportunity to participate in an exchange abroad.

“An exchange is the only way to gain an appreciation, understanding, and knowledge of another people. For my children, it has strengthened their cultural identity and their academic ability as they have come from immersion teaching in Māori which is their first language to everything taught in English for the first time.”

His advice to those considering a cultural exchange like his, is to first learn something of their practices and behaviours and have some idea of your own cultural identity.

So what next for Leonard? When he returns to New Zealand he hopes to lecture and present where possible and also continue with the development of his art having met exponents of Indian art and practitioners of their culture.

“Their influence is not the typical literal ‘grafting fusion’ but rather a coming together of ways in which the two art forms can work together in a duality rather than Māori art looking Indian or Indian art looking Māori.”

 

Scott Wilson – lecturing about New Zealand cinema at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Scott Wilson, a lecturer at Unitec with research interests in New Zealand cinema, had been looking for ways to “move out of his comfort zone” and develop his teaching practice further. He was keen to embark on a larger scale research project that would have a positive impact on his teaching and Unitec.

“In a conversation with the lovely people at Unitec’s research office, the Fulbright was mentioned as a possibility and after a little investigating, seemed like an ideal opportunity to do all of those things within a well-established and rigorous structure.”

Georgetown University’s Centre for Australian, New Zealand, and Pacific Studies has had a long history with the Fulbright programme and Wilson was attracted to the mix of teaching and research it offered.

He is at Georgetown for the university’s spring semester. His teaching finishes at the end of April; after that, he intends to spend most of May in the Library of Congress, gathering research material for his project.

Wilson is in Georgetown by himself, which he describes as “a little lonely” but also “great for giving me no excuse not to be working”.

It appears Wilson’s teaching practice is benefitting from the exchange; he says he definitely feels like he is becoming a better teacher as a result of his time in D.C.

“Any conversation with a group of students who are unfamiliar with the basic ideas that are central to this course – in this instance ideas about New Zealand national identity, New Zealand colonial history, or the broader history of settlement in Aotearoa/New Zealand means that I have to make sure I provide enough context to make the films mean something to the students, whilst at the same time, finding a way to let them offer their own opinions and insights from their own contexts and experiences. After all, trying to teach something to people who have had no prior experience is a great way of quickly discovering the previously invisible gaps of knowledge, or overlooked assumptions, one might have one’s self.

“The conversations we’re having in class have been thoroughly fabulous and have definitely allowed me to appreciate my topic through the eyes of people who are excited by it, but are also unfamiliar with it. I’ve also found that New Zealand cinema, because it is so very different to mainstream American film, provides a way for the students to talk about a variety of topics they might not otherwise feel comfortable discussing, like race, gender, and sexual politics and activism. So my own teaching is on its way to becoming more adept at using these texts to explore important concerns the students themselves have, which is a crucial part of engaging them with the classroom situation.”

Wilson also believes his time spent at Georgetown will benefit New Zealand cinema in general.

“Not only have I been able to introduce a select number of students to New Zealand films and their histories via this course, I’ve been able to experience some of what international audiences see when they encounter films from outside their own context. Given that I teach film history and theory in a New Zealand film school, dedicated to producing young New Zealand filmmakers, any insight I might have regarding what international audiences think, and how they interpret our films, will influence the ways I teach New Zealand film to New Zealand film students.”

Wilson’s research project, which is at the heart of his time at Georgetown, is involved in exploring the international reception of New Zealand cinema, and his time with the students is a crucial part of his exploration.

“My students often don’t notice something a New Zealand audience would be immediately alert to, like the differences between West Coast and East Coast beaches, or the ways in which class and status are coded for local audiences. At the same time, other things that are less important for a local audience become highly significant for them, like the presence of a Māori character in a film who never refers to his or her ethnicity (as in Scarfies or Stickmen). These insights could only really happen by taking New Zealand films to an international audience and spending time – lots of time – talking through these details.”

It is this time spent engaging with students that has allowed Wilson to appreciate the importance of actually being there.

“Even video conferencing limits conversation to the size of the computer screen,” he says. “In the classroom, every shrug of the shoulders, yawn, or surreptitiously sent text is meaningful; every moment where a question is nearly asked but then isn’t becomes a chance to explore and develop a depth and breadth of understanding. I believe that with regards my own practice, in the future I’ll be seeking to utilise both possibilities, supplementing face-to-face classroom sessions with online or distanced resources. I believe that it’s not a case that one way is better than the other. Both are different and they offer different possibilities, opportunities and obstacles.”

Wilson urges other lecturers to consider overseas opportunities. He suggests the most important thing is not only to keep an open mind, but also any open ear.

“I encourage my students to let me know what they don’t understand, be it my accent or specific pieces of contextual information. My expectations prior to arriving here are different to my expectations (of both the students and myself) as I approach the end of my teaching at Georgetown.

“One of the unexpected freedoms I’ve found is that because the students knew in advance that I was a visiting scholar, they had no preconceptions about how I would be in the classroom and so were never going to compare me to the standard lecturer; this means that we could experiment in the classroom on the classroom, working out what we enjoyed, what worked best, and what didn’t work so well.”

Upon returning to New Zealand, Wilson intends to return to lecturing but also hopes to continue with his research. “I’m gathering more material, as a result of my research, than I’ll be able to deal with whilst here [in Georgetown], so the business of assessing all that I’ve found will be an ongoing one, and necessarily all of that material will find its way both into my teaching practice and also into directing ongoing research.”


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