Artist, actor and activist Tāme Iti corrected his own misspelled name on a board in a Wellington hotel, prompting the artwork’s owner to call the police to investigate.
The painting, Tama Performs in a New Zealand Landscape, by Wellington-based artist Dean Proudfoot, depicts Iti but incorrectly spells her first name in its title, which appears in its lower left corner.
In a video uploaded on Tuesday and captioned Every week is Maori language week, Iti can be seen entering the QT Hotel in Wellington wearing a coat and hat, looking at various works of art, then sipping a Cup of tea.
“They call me Tame, Tama, somehow, you know. Such a simple name – Tāme,” he says to the camera.
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Iti then walks over to the Proudfoot artwork, which is mounted on the wall, takes off her coat, takes a brush and some orange paint, and, letter by letter, paints crosses across the misspelled Tama on the artwork.
Then, in white paint, Iti can be seen writing his own correctly spelled name above the incorrect version. He then leaves the hotel saying goodbye to the concierge and wishing him a good day.
The act is set to the tune of the next Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg episode.
Art collector and philanthropist Chris Parkin, who owned the work, described the act as defacement.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s downright vandalism,” Parkin, who is currently overseas, said in a text message. “It’s no different than someone putting graffiti on a building they don’t own. I expect the police to chase him. They would definitely do me if I went to Te Papa and vandalized a piece of art.
But a police spokesperson couldn’t find any reports that matched that description and said it could find its way into the system.
When contacted, Iti forwarded inquiries to the artwork owner.
In an emailed statement, Proudfoot, the artist of the work, said he had unreservedly apologized to Iti.
“There was no intent to infringe – it was a clear lack of research on my behalf. This series of works has always been about celebrating the unique characters of Aotearoa New Zealand,” said Proudfoot.
Iti was the “quintessence” of what made Aotearoa special, he said.
Painted in 2008, the work referenced Shakespeare’s Iti performance in London in 2008 and the raising of an Australian flag during a Waitangi Court hearing at Tauarau Marae in 2005.
“What Tāme did in ‘correcting’ it, gave the work new life with a much more powerful meaning. He was raised. I thank him for that and for what I learned as well,” Proudfoot said.
Of Ngāi Tūhoe descent, Iti was a key member of the Ngā Tamatoa activist group that fought in the 1970s to confront violations of Te Tiriti and fight discrimination.
Iti worked with the Ngāi Tūhoe community to create, co-produce and star in the feature film Muru, an action drama inspired by the Tūhoe raids, which was released this year.
On Tuesday, the Film Commission announced that the film would be New Zealand’s nominee for next year’s Best International Feature category at the Oscars.