TUFFERY, Michael

Nationality: New Zealand
Website: Website
New Zealand artist
Lives and works in Wellington

Cultural appropriation is a sensitive topic in the countries of the Pacific rim. In New Zealand and Australia especially indigenous cultures are claiming rights of cultural and traditional ownership over specific images and motifs.

This situation is further complicated by tension between traditional and contemporary use of these images.

Michel Tuffery has a number of tattoos. Aside from the pe’a carried out in Samoa according to traditional designs and methods he also has an arm tattoo to his own design executed by a palagi (non-Samoan) tattoo artist. The latter has been subject to considerable criticism; it is not Fa’a Samoa (the Samoan way).

Tuffery agrees that it may not be traditional but points out that an entire generation growing up in New Zealand is the product of a multiple cultural heritage; Polynesian as well as Western. This is a generation increasingly asserting its independence as a group as well as promoting the rights of individual artists over collective representation.

These represent significant shifts of cultural focus which have, by some, been considered as threats to the integrity of traditional culture.

Tuffery believes that change need not equate cultural disintegration but rather that – for better or worse – it marks the process of cultural evolution. He himself is both a product of and instigator to this process. His Polynesian heritage contributes but so dos his Western Fine Arts training, his international contemporaries and his direct environment.

In the more traditional sense of evolution Tuffery conceives of the natural and human world as closely interrelated and extensively blends human and animal forms in his work to communicate ideas regarding either. The greater the blend the more disparate the effect. “Corned beef 2000” is a work owned by the Museum of New Zealand. This mechanized bull is made out of corned beef tins.

Corned beef, an imported product, has become an integral part of the Samoan diet just as other aspects of “Western” culture have been adopted by island nations. This tin bull – though magnificently appearing – moves slowly and with a whine.

Adaption and assimilation have taken place to an extent but this hybrid calf has still a way to go before it will run. Tuffery is helping it to its feet and will be running alongside it…