“I Will Not Speak Māori”: the provocative new work of Tame Iti causes a sensation

“I will not speak Maori” is a phrase Tame Iti has been forced to write hundreds of times by his teachers.

Now the sometimes controversial Tūhoe kaumātua is causing a stir by painting the phrase on Wellington’s waterfront.

The words are bolded on a canvas attached to a fence in Odlin’s Square, part of an art installation called I Will Not Speak Māori to celebrate Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Maori Language Week.

Iti said the installation was meant to be provocative and he liked the response it received from passers-by when he painted it – although it confused some people at first.

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“People responded quite fiercely, and I really like that. I had to explain to them that we (Maori) were subject to this. We had to write this, so you have to see this.

“It does what it’s supposed to do – create conversation.”

The installation marks the 50th anniversary of the delivery of the Māori-language petition by Iti and Tāmaki Makaurau’s Ngā Tamatoa Māori activist group to the Parliament of Te Whanganui-a-Tara in 1972, calling for recognition of te reo Māori .

Tame Iti's art installation in Wellington celebrates Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Maori Language Week.

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

Tame Iti’s art installation in Wellington celebrates Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori, Maori Language Week.

He launched Maori Language Day the same year, which became Maori Language Week in 1975.

Parts of the installation have been temporarily dismantled due to high winds on the waterfront, but they will be reinstalled by September 1 in time for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori.

Before being taken down, a member of the public cut the word ‘No’ from the board, so that it read: ‘I will speak Maori’ – a statement Iti appreciated.

“I want to meet that person, I want to shake their hand, because it’s all part of art…that’s what art is, and I love it.”

WellingtonNZ/Stuff

“I will not speak Maori” is written in bold on a canvas tied to a fence in Odlin’s Square.

Tiana Rakete, event development manager at WellingtonNZ – the agency that helped fund the installation – said it was only fitting that Iti chose Wellington to showcase the works.

“Wellington is an integral part of the story of te reo Māori revitalization, like the place where Tame brought the petition 50 years ago.

“There’s nowhere else this conversation could appropriately take place.”

The installation, which also includes corten steel sculptures, audio and visual presentations and live performances by Tame himself, will be officially open to the public from September 1.