I find it really hard to write about myself.
You may have noticed my kanohi has been conspicuous by it's absence around here- and in a culture where selfies and broadcasting a 'personal brand' are the norm, it feels at times, a little against the grain.
It's absent for a few reasons.
1. As a natural introvert, I love a great kōrero with people I know and love- but put me on a stage to talk to an audience and I'm all nerves. It's easier for me to write and share our story most authentically, when I can kick off my shoes, boil the jug, find a corner of sunshine and a comfy cushion and write as if we were sharing the kōrero.
2. It's been a personal journey to find myself in a place where I can sit tau in my identity as Kāi Tahu or as Māori. As a fair haired, blue eyed 'Pakeha-looking' girl who grew up at a distance from our tribal rohe (regions), cultural practices and reo, it has been a long road of learning, being vulnerable, learning to sit in discomfort, being humble and learning some more, that has found me in a place where the legitimacy of my cultural identity is no longer susceptible to the winds of opinion. But more on that at another day.
3 . For me, AHO, much like whakapapa does not begin or end with me, but it just so happens that the many threads of whakapapa wove together in me to conspire this current manifestation.
I believe wholeheartedly that AHO is a kaupapa that exists that is not dependent exclusively on me.
That it will continue to evolve and expand, integrating many others- aesthetics, cultural identities, learnings, processes and taonga into the mix.
If anyone has read the pukapuka 'What to do with an idea' by Kobi Yamada
, AHO has felt a lot like that 'idea' for many many years, and it has only been with small steps, one in front of the other, that the 'idea' has begun to take on a life and identity all of it's own.
Image from What to do with an idea by Kobi Yamada.
And so you see, as much as I'd happily tell the story of AHO and omit myself from the narrative- but there are many threads that are so intertwined with my personal journey, that the formation stories are in many ways inseparable from one another.
Ko wai mātou? Who are we?
Ko wai au? Who am I?
Ko au te komititanga o ngā wai o ōku tūpuna
Ko Waikouaiti tērā e totō ake ana i te pūtake o Hikaroroa, e rere atu ana ki Te Tai o Āraiteuru, ki Pūrākaunui, ki Puketeraki.
Ko Hodebrook tērā e puke ake ana i te pūtake o te puke Leith, e rere atu ana ki te tai o te moana celtic.
I am a thread, spun of the many fibres of my tūpuna.
Like a river, braided of many waters of my ancestors.
In me, two rivers converged. Their waters run deep.
On my father's side, the source is found far from here, stemming from the land of his tūpuna in England. Hodebrook is the physical marker on the landscape where the river Leith flows forth down to the Celtic Ocean.
On my Mother's side, the river has been braided many times before it reached me, an intertwining of Kāi Tahu, Kati Mamoe and Pākehā origins.
In Aotearoa, we find our source in our maunga Hikaroroa, from which the currents of Waikouaiti flow down toward the tide of Araiteuru, to Puketeraki, to Pūrākaunui, just north of Otepoti, Dunedin.
I grew up dwarfed by the majestic silhouette of Taranaki maunga in the north island, sustained and shaped by the fertile whenua that lies beneath, and whipped by those wild west coast winds.
Our whānau life was a picture of privilege, opportunity and pākehā culture with an abstract awareness that we had this thing called 'whakapapa', and our Mum was into 'Māori stuff'.
It was't really until high school that this stirring in my pito awakened a new aspect of self, and to the immense concern of the school, I swapped out Latin for Te Reo. Always one of those 'arty ones', my hunger for culture and language, identity and a sense of belonging fast became enmeshed in art and making- though often stirring up more questions than it answered.
I moved on to university to study Māori Visual Arts at Te Pūtahi a Toi (Massey University in Palmerston North) and found myself so beyond my comfort zone that I'm sure anyone else with a little less stubbornness, might sagely have decided for a slightly easier path.
Memorably, for the first few weeks on campus our department receptionist would greet passing tauira with an easy 'kia ora', and once seeing my face would kindly ask 'hello dear, are you lost, can I help you?'.
My young, impressionable and well out-of-my-comfort-zone-self began to echo those questions internally. Whether she was merely reflecting a question that looked like it needed asking, or unconsciously greeting me differently, I too wondered 'maybe I am lost', 'she can tell I don't belong here', 'I'm not Māori-enough for this place'.
The four years that followed were some of the most testing, growing, uncomfortable, nourishing and inspiring. I was surrounded by great minds, but also egos. Culture, but also politics. Learning, but also whanaungatanga.
Upon reflection, my early creations reflected a relatively simple/superficial cultural anxiety. Video works in which I painted myself in whenua, and dared to ask the camera, 'Māori enough yet?', 'Tangata whenua?'.
By the time I graduated, with 4 years of intellectual jargon under my belt, the works were slightly more nuanced with questions around hybriditiy, cultural essentialism, quantum measures and colonising tools that marginalize indigenous identity constructs. It found me casting sculptures of heads- both mine and my parents, in quantum (eg 1/16th or %) measures of blood and ice, Māori and Pākehā.
It came, perhaps as a surprise to many, the vibrancy of the blood in the final installation. They were radiant and bright.
Eventually I graduated, both from the BMVA and a Politics degree, where I'd taken a keen interest in the connections between cultural identity, political agency and development.
Ka haere te wā, ka tārere te wai.
Nāwai, nāwai, Ko Indus tērā e rere mai nei, mai i te pūtake o Aror ki Aotearoa nei Ko Achan te tau o taku ate. Ka pupū ake te aroha, me he wai e koropupū ake ana. Ko Ananya rāua ko Piata te pūtahitanga o ēnei whakapapa, o ēnei wai.
After graduating from the Politics program, I embarked on an adventure to India to intern at an NGO in what I hoped would be an opportunity to cement some of our learnings in the real world. After the original plans turned to shite, I found myself holed up in a bedroom in a Delhi flat on a murky cold winter evening googling 'NGO+Delhi+art+development', firing out emails and wondering what I would do with myself for the intervening 2.5 months until my return flight home.
By some small miracle, I found not only a willing NGO, but my now-husband in those months.
It's surreal that that was ten years ago- December 2009.
Ten years on and two beautiful kōtiro later we live in Ōtautahi, Christchurch, New Zealand. We found an opportunity to move to Te Waipounamu and leapt- a chance for us to start our lives in Aotearoa together, and also, formatively for me, an opportunity to connect with our whenua and iwi.
A space where that head knowledge has shifted to a deeper more grounded belonging to place.
Aho as I mentioned earlier, has been an idea that has followed me around for many many years but without much shape. It was in 2015, while newly hapū with our mātāmua that provided the perfect catalyst for action.
It was born of a desire to be able to gift and wrap our newborn in a fabric that celebrated and affirmed her whakapapa as a living and present reality. A whakapapa that was woven of threads that now stretched from the foothills of the Aror Mountains in present-day Pakistan, to the celtic sea off the coast of England, all the way through the pacific to Te Waipounamu, the southern Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand.
With the awareness of this taonga I carried within, came the growing consciousness that we were responsible for the world she would one day inherit.
We wanted this koha to her, to not only be beautiful and practical, but also to embody our values- of Kaitiakitanga, Manaakitanga, Whanaungatanga and Rangatiratanga.
I was determined that the idea, the material, processing and platform should be deliberate, transparent and coherent as possible- the ultimate experiment in what a business may look like if built upon kaupapa and mātauranga Māori.
And so with an idea, a good measure of idealism and the onset of morning sickness, we set off to India to build relationships and find a partner and community who could share our values and aspirations. By some miracle, after much much traipsing around corners and factories and fields in India, we were lucky to meet some kindred spirits with some big dreams, and have been working together ever since.
In November/December 2019, I returned to meet, to kōrero and to document the whakapapa of our garments, from seed to product. To create a visual whakapapa that we can share with you- a new level of transparency, understanding and connection that is woven into the very fibres of the pieces we create.
And so you see, I hope, that this story isn't exactly about me, but my whānau and I are each woven into the threads that give shape to this idea.
Ko au te komititanga o ngā wai o ōku tūpuna
He puna aroha, he puna wai, he puna mihi e kore e mimiti
I am the confluence of the waters of my ancestors
The current runs deep in me
I am a thread, woven of many strands.
Ko Kristy Bedi tōku ingoa.
p.s. our next chapter 3 will be about the origins of the cotton seed and it's life and community in Adilabad, India.
Click here to see our previous Chapter 1