01 Mar 2023
Creative New Zealand is the national arts development agency. Our role is to promote and support the arts, and to reflect the diversity of experience and cultures that make up New Zealand.
Tusiata Avia MNZM is one of New Zealand’s most celebrated contemporary poets, and for the past 20 years she has contributed to Aotearoa’s cultural life through her vivid language and compelling performances. Avia’s work is intentionally confronting and strongly worded by her own admission. Published in 2020, The Savage Coloniser won New Zealand’s most significant poetry prize at the New Zealand Book Awards in 2021 and has been read and performed throughout the country and internationally.
We are aware there has been recent criticism of the book’s poems; it is important to note that while a single poem has offended some readers, it sits within the context of a whole book that draws upon multiple, imagined perspectives exploring colonisation and its aftermath. Art is where ideas can be explored, tested and shown.
The Savage Coloniser show, a play based on Tusiata Avia’s work of poetry, has been supported by Creative New Zealand to be staged at the Auckland Arts Festival. All Creative New Zealand’s funding applications go through a rigorous assessment process, and the application to fund The Savage Coloniser show received strong support.
Under our governing legislation, one of the functions of the Arts Council is to “uphold and promote the rights of artists and the right of persons to freedom in the practice of the arts”. We recognise this freedom is not absolute. However, whether a work of art constitutes ‘hate speech’ or contravenes the Human Rights Act is a matter for a body other than Creative New Zealand to determine.
We understand that artworks can divide opinion, especially when they are addressing powerful themes such as Tusiata’s in The Savage Coloniser. However, we support the sharing of ideas, stories and experiences through art.
The Human Rights Commission has also made a statement with regards to The Savage Coloniser. Read it here.