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He Taonga Tonu te Wareware

Forgetfulness is to be reckoned with always



Social Amnesia is a term referencing the work of Russell Jacoby, that refers to the collective forgetting by a group of people and can be a result of forcible repression of memories, ignorance, changing circumstances or changing interests.

This often occurs after trying and difficult times for example; the coming together of two peoples, one must often relinquish its ways to that of the other either by need or force. This creates the tendency for some to ignore certain parts of history, or precedent, when discussing the present and more importantly, informing the future.

As people of varying backgrounds we know aspects of our history, the aspects that affect us the most. However, we often fail to see the whole truth rather opting instead to accept a comfortable understanding that does not require too much reflection or explanation. This status is highly favoured by those in colonial power who go to great lengths to ensure the status quo; through law making, governance and the institutionalisation of almost all aspects of life. The result is often the minority group forgetting their true history as they, generation by generation, assimilate to a new knowing of themselves. Social amnesia is encouraged to prevent unrest and possible rebellion, all the while enabling us to “move on” and let go, but who is doing the letting go here?

This work sees me developing a strong interest in the history/whakapapa of Aotearoa. I started by looking at the introduction of the printing letterpress and the effects on Māori in the 1800’s as a means to explore what is happening now in terms of text, print and printmaking and fell into the gaping holes in my knowledge in regards Aotearoa's basic history. As a result I have composed a series works that instinctively download written knowledge into contemporary print formats; utilising new technologies of laser-cutters into wood, with handmade marks and graffiti spray-paint and stencils to underlay or overlay colour.  

These works are by no means a resolution to the discussion nor a map to a resolution.  Instead are to act like pou whakairo, tukutuku or kowhaiwhai in our wharenui, collectively activating the space to allow a response from the viewer’s knowing and personal ideology. To reclaim who we are is to speak our truths.


Vanessa Wairata Edwards in home studio, Whanganui with the printing block for Waharua; Contact Point.

“History is written by the victors” Winston Churchill


Social Amnesia has certainly occurred in Aotearoa with Maori history, reo, tikanga and matauranga being examined and assessed against a colonial counterpart.

What was not recognised or understood by the colonials was actively dismissed and in some cases, forcibly denied to Maori and consequently Aotearoa as a growing nation. This has resulted in generations of people in unrest and turmoil. This body of work acknowledges our personal ideologies but challenges us to question our knowing and seek continued discourse and action.

Interestingly in 2019, New Zealand's early history became a focus for curriculum at both primary and secondary levels, with the government announcing compulsory history of NZ to be implemented by 2022. Driven by our young people’s desire to know more about our history it seemed timely, as we also commemorated the arrival of Captain Cook and the meeting of two peoples like it was something to celebrate, and for some it was, but for many others it certainly was not. Discourse around the country has revealed the effects of collective forgetfulness as some people proclaim that Cooks arrival marked the beginning of the “shaping of our great nation”, choosing to ignore that an established nation already existed.

He Taonga Tonu te Wareware - Forgetfulness is to be reckoned with always.

He taonga tonu te wareware is Maori saying that counteracts Social Amnesia, it refers to forgetfulness as being an enduring act and something we must actively resist.

Tino rangatiratanga and acts of self-determination such as migration, protest, self-governance, kohanga reo, kura kaupapa, cultural intellectual property rights, telling our own stories our way, are all acts of resistance to collective forgetting.

Perhaps it is time to get uncomfortable with each other, reflect on ourselves and our society and join the resistance against Social Amnesia.

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