There are many reasons to leave home—to move away from your family and your culture and settle on distant shores. Some migrants are refugees, escaping persecution, tyranny or poverty. Some are forced to take leave while others choose it, acknowledging that exploration is really the essence of the human spirit. It lurks in our DNA, a gift from our ancestors.
For his new work, a visual/sonic installation that explores voyaging and migration—Carving Water Painting Voice, artist Kazu Nakagawa struck up a collaboration with composer Helen Bowater.
A Niuean canoe, originally constructed by master vaka builder Tamifai Fihiniu, was damaged in transit to Waiheke Island a decade ago and, exposed to the elements, it fell into further disrepair. This craft was gifted to Kazu to take on another, more spiritual, journey.
His painstaking restoration of the canoe is nearing completion but Kazu is doing more than simply making the vessel seaworthy. He has tasked himself with incorporating this craft into a meditation on what it represents. How humans throughout the course of history have set sail in search of new lands, new homes, beyond the horizon of knowledge. New Zealand was the last significant landmass to be inhabited, less than a thousand years ago. Those first voyagers came by canoe. Later waves of European settlers also arrived by sea. The geographic isolation of New Zealand always meant a perilous journey for the intrepid ones who sailed into these waters. Little has changed for wayfarers.
Into their artwork, Kazu is building a set of 20 paddles to support/embrace it on the Matiatia Headland for the duration of its launch at the Headland Sculpture on the Gulf 2017 event. Helen Bowater and filmmaker Ku Nakagawa have recorded the stories and songs of more than 50 migrants in their native tongues for Helen to weave into a sonic ocean, a new medium for the canoe’s ongoing voyages.
Carving Water Painting Voice is an ode to the human spirit. These are migrant's tales, a glimpse beyond the words of the contributors who sing and speak their stories.
Kazu's interest in the migration theme begins with his own feelings of cultural dislocation. He left Japan more than half a lifetime ago with a sense that he didn't fit into his own time and place. A sea voyage took him and his new bride Mika to Korea, Sydney, then New Zealand. The couple settled on Waiheke Island. Mika was more fluent in English—Kazu could barely speak or understand—and this became his daily challenge: to make a life in a place where he has no cultural currency, limited communication skills and a brain full of knowledge and things he needed to share.
The greater challenge was to overcome his fear. "It was a fear toward the unknown, losing the known and what I had once been so connected to as home. There seems to be no way to stop this fear except by seeing that such connections were illusions in the first place."
His cabinet making skills were transformed into art practice. Art is the lingua franca, the common tongue that transcends the limitations of speech. His early works had a strong sense of dislocation and dysfunction, furniture with legs too spindly to support the weight of cultural baggage, seeming to reflect his own tenuous position in this new landscape.
Now he sees himself as existing in the space between cultures. A man who's home lacks roots that extend into soil. Rather, as Basho noted in his travelogue, Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North), "Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home".
Born in Arbil, northern Iraq, Khananla Danlil—a professional traditional singer and bouzouki (long-necked plucked lute) player who performed on Iraqi radio and television—came to New Zealand 20 years ago.
He sings traditional songs at the weddings of people from his culture and, at their local church, he sings in the Aramaic language—this language was replaced by Arabic in the 7th century as a commonly spoken language.
Alber Isaac was born in Al-hasakah, Syria. He came to NZ in 2003.
He has worked in Karori, Wellington, as a barber for the last 9 years and speaks both his native language and English at home to educate his children appropriately. Danlil is his teacher in both traditional music and the history of their native culture.
“I really believe New Zealand is my home now."
"I was in Paris two times when we were being attacked and it was like something I have never experienced before and something I don’t want to live through any more. You feel like all the anger coming from all the world straight in your face. I haven’t been in places under attack before but have a lot of friends who were in the streets in that area. We are still bleeding from what happened last year and just before.
"I am lucky because none of my family or close friends were killed from these attacks but we are thinking about this fear we have lived with for a long time."
Jae and her husband James immigrated from South Korea in 1999. They were seeking a better life for their two children, particularly Taewon, an autistic child who needed medical care. At that time, disabled support in Korea lagged behind what New Zealand services could offer.
New Zealand is culturally remote from Korea and the sacrifices émigrés make recalibrating their lives are not always obvious. Jae, a respected artist in Korea, and James, a maths teacher, put their chosen careers aside to take over a tomato growing business south of Auckland. They had no horticultural experience, navigating the early years with help from neighbours and the Korean community.
In recent years Jae has rekindled her artistic ambitions, creating public artworks and installations. She is an exhibitor at Headland Sculpture on the Gulf 2017.
In 2016 they lost their house and possessions to a fire. But New Zealand is home. They are rebuilding.
"We no longer have the things with our memories, photographs and particularly hand written letters from those who have passed away. They were just too precious to be lost." A traditional Korean music ensemble in which they both perform has been part of their recovery. "I feel happy singing. I don’t look back, I just listen to what I sing."
"I came to New Zealand from Israel with my mother 14 years ago to visit my grandmother. I liked it so have decided to stay. New Zealand is much more easy going—more open work-wise. Israelis are more family oriented. I go to Israel to visit but I’m not Israeli any more. Israel—it’s not my home. New Zealand is my home now."
Sarah, a business graduate from Paris working as an accountant in New Zealand often wonders why she stays here instead of going home. "I miss my family badly, friends and French food... this is definitely not home, for me." Despite this sense of being an alien, she is applying for NZ residency.
The reason it doesn't feel like home is obvious—New Zealand is too far from her family, her mother and sister. But the reason she doesn't go back to France is less obvious, it is uncomfortable, even to talk about. She looks on her present journey as moving beyond the landscapes of terra firma and ponders whether her motherland lies just beyond the hills and the horizon in this new country, or if there might be more countries to be explored on the journey "home". Perhaps she cannot leave France? Or perhaps this is the first step?
To leave home is to take a journey into yourself.