Metiria Turei talks art and life after politics | Two Sketches with Toby Morris


– So you used to knit in the
House sometimes too right? – Definitely in parliament
’cause it was just like, “Oh god these people
are driving me insane.” (laughing) – It can go on a bit sometimes. – Yeah, can you all just shush! (gentle music) – All right, cool, well thank you so much for having us in your space. – It’s all good. – I’m really excited about doing this one. I think it’s gonna be fun. – I hope so. – I think we’re doing something a bit different today, right? You’re gonna do some stitching? – Yeah. I’m not much of a drawer,
but I am a stitcher. So I figured it might be
kinda similar… different. – I feel like it’s in
the same world, yeah. – Yeah, it is. – I think the definition of
drawing is pretty broad, right? Did you have an idea of
what we could be working on? – So I’m quite keen on
old lady superheroes. – OK, sure. – That’s my kind of… – [Toby] Cool. – thing at the moment. So are you up for that? – Old lady superheroes,
that sounds good, yeah. – Old, old is important. – OK cool, I’m thinking of my, when I think of the old
lady I think of my gran. For me she was someone that showed me lots about art actually,
funny that you bring it up because she’s really
interested in sculpture. And she lived in Auckland,
we used to visit her and she used to be always taking me to cool sculpture exhibitions
each time I came to visit her. I think she probably saw
that I was interested in that stuff so it was kind of the thing that we connected over. – Well that’s awesome. – Yeah, so what are you going to stitch? – I will stitch… what could
be one of her superpowers. – OK. – How’s that sound? – Amazing, I love it,
that sounds fantastic. What a great idea. (gentle guitar music) (pencil scratching) So you’ve been an activist and a lawyer and an MP and then the
co-leader of the Green Party. And these days you’re an artist. How do you introduce yourself these days? (laughs) – Actually I’m trying to
use the word artist more and get used to it in my mouth. I remember that when I was co-leader, yeah when I was co-leader of the Greens and people would ring up for interviews and I’d have to say what my job was and I’d always giggle, like say co-leader and then giggle like a dork- – Can’t quite believe it. – Yeah, trying to get
used to the word artist, I think that’s good. – Were you interested in art as a kid? – Yeah I used to make a lot of stuff. Just like with boxes and
glue and stuff like that. But I never really thought I was arty, if you know what I mean. – Right. – I just was always making stuff. I’d sew and knit and glue stuff together. – And it sounds like it was a
somewhat creative environment. – Yeah, I mean my mother was um, still is, she’s incredibly creative. So she weaves and has
always knitted and stuff. So she taught us how to do it. So she was always really into it. – But it was not like a career option at that stage when you were a kid? – No, no, no, no. I never thought that
would be the sort of thing I would wanna do. I did want to be a Solid
Gold dancer at one point. – Cool. – ’cause who wouldn’t? – Who wouldn’t? Yeah that sounds pretty fun. Fairly early on you were into
activism and stuff right? – Yes, I got politically
kind of active in the 80s, about 17 or 18. Started getting involved with the unemployed rights movement then. Which was really big, it was heating up. There was a big surge in unemployment after Labour’s economic
reforms in the 80s. That was the politicisation
process, if you like, for me – kind of trying to understand how law and politics affects ordinary life. Unless people are talking to
you about this sort of thing or you live in that environment it’s really hard to see how
those things are connected. And when you do, it’s just
like, fucking fight the power, like, the bastards. So you just kinda get
quite into it, well I did. But it was very real because people were really
doing it hard, you know. And so it felt like that we were actually on the side of the angels
trying to make good change. Actually I’m ready to stitch I think now. – Yeah? – Yeah. – Cool, OK, let’s do it. – Can we move this thing? – Get rid of the board? – I mean it’s a really cool drawing thing and I can totally see why
you would have one but… – You gotta do your thing. I’m looking forward to
seeing how this all works. – Thank you. – Look at that. – Oh sweet as. – [Toby] You got threads there. – So I was involved in unemployed rights a little bit in Wellington
and a bit in Palmerston North with the Workers Unemployed
Rights Centre there. And it was a movement that
was supported really well by the unions because we
were supporting workers who had been made unemployed. So our job was to advocate for them. I was also involved with
this fantastic group of anarchist women, The Random Trollops. And we went travelling around the country and doing heaps of
anarcha-feminist performance stuff. – Oh OK. – Yeah, which was really cool and I was doing heaps of the costuming. – Yeah, right, OK. That sort of ties back to
what you’re doing these days. – Yeah, so we just liked
creating a hell of a mess. But making all sorts of fabulous costumes. Devil costumes and cactus costumes and all sorts of stuff. – So that was sort of part theatre and part activism kind of work? – Yeah there were some
really powerful women involved at the time,
people like Val Smith and Katie Julian and a
whole bunch of others. – I was friends with all these guys so we just started doing performances. – What does a Random Trollops
performance look like? What happens? – Well… (laughs) it was eclectic and so we did
our opening kind of showpiece was this thing that involved
a meditation tape and a lot of screaming on our part. The meditation tape was
playing at one point and a lot of screaming
just slightly afterwards. Which was very cathartic, as it turns out, that whole screaming therapy is actually a good idea for lots of good reasons. We did things with Devilettes. We did a great one once
with poor old Nándor, this is in the earlier years, (laughs) Called Satanic Sex, where
we got him on stage, I think he was pretty famous then, I don’t think he was an MP
but he was pretty famous, and wrapped him head to toe in Glad Wrap, danced around for a while, gave everyone a lesson on safe sex. Safe satanic sex. (laughing) And then left him on stage. – Amazing. – And, I don’t know, we
all just went off stage, got ready for the next bit but he had plastic all
over his face, yeah. And somebody from the audience
had to go and rescue him. – Excellent. – Yeah, and what they did,
just like made a little hole for him to breathe in and
left him on the stage. Apparently, he just bounced off ’cause he was completely wrapped up. Yeah, stuff like that. – Amazing, it sounds lots of fun. – It was like slightly dangerous. But it was really fun. (soft guitar music) – I was gonna ask about
the McGillicuddies too, – Yeah, yeah, yeah. – Like the first time you ran
was for the McGillicuddies? – Yeah, yeah. – Which seems like a
combination of like the sort of parliamentary politics on the one hand and art and activism on the other hand. Seems like McGillicuddy
sits in the middle of that quite nicely as well. – Yeah, I guess they do actually, ’cause they were, you know
they were a political movement all about the farce of
parliamentary politics and the farce of that whole system. But also, incredibly creative. It was such a great
way to explore politics in a way that was, you know, was relevant and used all of the skills
that I’d developed as part of the unemployed rights movement stuff but was also fun and light enough so you didn’t feel like you’d
just been kind of in this turgid, anti, kind of
conflict-ridden state all the time, which was really good. – Right, I guess activism can get sort of this aggressive side to
it or an angry side to it, I suppose… doing things in a fun way,
there’s value in that too. – Yeah, and like just being
prepared to take the piss, like one of the things, we
treat politics very seriously ’cause it has a really serious effect, but it’s also a ridiculous
system that we create ourselves so we impose all these rules on ourselves and then get pissed about them. There is an element of, you
know, societal agreement that this is the system that we have – Right. – And it’s not perfect. – That you can poke fun at it sometimes. – Yeah, you can. Yeah, you
don’t have to take it seriously all the time. You can actually have a bit of a laugh. – Well it seems like such
a jump from that world to fast-forward a few years and suddenly you’re in parliament. – Parliament. – How did that come about? What was the inspiration
that made you get involved with the Greens and start
taking politics more, in the conventional sense, more seriously? – Being useful, I’ve
always liked being useful. And when I got my first law job in 99, but I also got married and whole lot of other stuff was going on, so it was my year of political silence and I decided I would do no politics, I’d have some fun but
even then the fun stuff I had to keep to a minimum ’cause I really just needed to focus on… – Just get life things running, yeah? – Working. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was also the 99 elections where the Greens got elected and Nándor got elected
and Sue got elected. – Sue Bradford? – Yeah, Sue Bradford.
People I’d worked with and friends I’d known
for a long, long time. And I was like, “What a shit
year for political silence”. (laughs) – But after that, (laughs) In 2000, almost immediately
afterwards, Nándor rang and asked if I would get
involved with the Greens because the Greens were
looking at doing some stuff on their Māori policy and
particularly on how it is that a Pākehā organisation can
have an authentic approach to this stuff. It’s all good having something
in your constitution, but how do you make it real. And it’s taken really hard work. So I got involved ’cause it
seemed like something I could do that was useful and it
was a good group of people and it just kind of kept going from there. So I joined in February of 2000, and then I became an MP in 2002. So it was all pretty quick. – Did that involve some
political compromises? or personal compromises? Joining parliament, a sort
of toning down or something? Did you feel like you had to do that or? (laughs) – Yeah, I mean I thought I did, I wasn’t necessarily very good at it. (laughs) I got into big trouble on
the steps of parliament, the very first protest. 2002 had been an election based on race and there was, New Zealand First was going
around being really hideous. And so there was this big
protest at parliament about it and so I stood on the steps of parliament and I said, “We Māoris have
more in common with immigrants than we do with our colonial oppressors”. And everyone was like, “Yeah!”. Except for everybody who I
worked with were like, “Oh god”. (laughs) It was probably a little on
the nose but you know, ah well. Yeah no I got into trouble for that. People were writing me letters like, threatening to cut my head
off and boil it in pots. I know, it was like, full-on. – Proper intro to like all of New Zealand. (laughs) I really didn’t think that
was really that controversial, but the activism was really essential ’cause what it did was
gave me a chance to see how the interface between the
parliament and communities. I mean I’d done some of that, I’d written submissions and
things as an activist and presented select committees
and that sort of thing before, but to be on the other
side too it meant that I had a better idea about
how maybe to treat people or when people come and
they tell you something at select committee, it’s a
little bit easier to understand what they’re trying to tell you, even if the words aren’t quite
right that they’re saying, to actually understand
where they’re coming from ’cause I’d been on that side of it. – Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that, whether having been on both sides of it would inform the way
you acted in parliament? – Yeah, totally, totally. And really importantly, I
just think that if you don’t, if you’ve only been on the
privileged side of these things then of course you’re only
ever gonna understand, you’re only gonna understand
the community you belong to, really. And so people who come from privilege who are exercising that power
there are only gonna see it in terms of assisting with
the maintenance of privilege. But also, from my point of view, sometimes when I reflect back
on this a bit it’s like, well, did I take enough opportunity
to work with people that were really different
from me in order to get gains and stuff and I don’t know that I did. Because I also had come from
an oppositional community, right? So that’s how I kind
of approached the exercise of power in there. – That it’s you against
the man or whatever. – Yeah, yeah. So I was sort of inside my
own silo, to some extent. Just like the people who
have privilege who were. (soft guitar music) – One other thing that I think
of when I think of your time was in 2015 when you led
a walkout of woman MPs out of the House… – Ah, yeah yeah. So in a fight
between National and Labour in the House one day, John Key accused Labour of
supporting rapists and murderers, it was a shitty thing to say. – Question number four, Metiria Turei. – Thank you Mr Speaker. My question is to the
prime minister and asks, Does he stand by his statement,
“Well, you back rapists”. – [Speaker] The right
honourable prime minister. – Mr Speaker, yes. – There were points of order I think, at the time or just after,
about, in the Chamber, asking him to withdraw and apologise and he wouldn’t. And the speaker wouldn’t make him because he didn’t consider it
to be an offensive statement to make, but actually it
was incredibly offensive, because, especially because
he was talking about the opposition as a
whole, not just Labour, but he was talking about all
people who were on that issue. It’s like, well you’re talking to people who have actually been
victims of sexual assault that they are now supporters of rapists. – So it’s not a term you
throw around lightly. – No you can’t just throw it
around, and it was offensive. So I went down into the Chamber after thinking about it for a while and made a point of order at question time that I took personal
offence to the statement as a victim of sexual assault. – Point of order, Metiria Turei. – Sir, the prime minister
has consistently supported his statement of yesterday, he
has essentially reconfirmed- – [Speaker] Order,
order can I just, order. – I ask that he be made to
apologise and withdraw because I have taken personal offence
as a victim of sexual assault. – Order, order. – I remind the member when I
stand, it’s time for the member to cease speaking. That’s not a point of order. The prime minister’s answer has said nothing that is
unparliamentary in that answer. – We were trying to get
the speaker to understand that it was an offensive
statement to make. You know, you can’t call anybody racist. There’s lots of words you
can’t use in parliament with other people. – It’s not a theoretical
thing, it’s actually, here’s a real effect on people’s lives- – Yeah that’s right, so maybe
if we were saying to him, we know what that experience is, can you not see how offensive it is? But he refused. The speaker refused to
make John Key apologise. John refused to apologise, and so a whole lot of
women stood up and said, took the same point of order,
and we were all kicked out. – As a victim and survivor
of family violence and an advocate for victims of violence, I take personal offence at the comments of the prime minister – [Speaker] Order, order no
we’re now getting to the stage when there could be a series
of these points of orders. Jan Logie, point of order. – As a victim of sexual assault and an advocate for survivors,
I would ask that record be- – [Speaker] Order, order, order. – As a victim of sexual assault- – [Speaker] Order, order, order. – I take personal offence
and would like to ask for personal explanation
from the prime minister. – Order, order. Member
will resume her seat. – As a trustee of the
Waikato Women’s Refuge Te Whakaruruhau, I take personal offence at the comments- – Order, order the Member
will resume her seat. – As a victim of sexual violence… – [Speaker] Order, order, the
member will leave the Chamber. – They were incredibly brave
and amazing, those women, actually to stand up and be prepared to be counted like that. It was a personally very
revealing thing to do, but at the same time, these issues have to be
made real in the parliament, they are not obscure,
intellectual points of argument. – So it’s not a theoretical
thing, it’s a real life… – No, it’s not. It’s real, real life. And there are people, not just women too, there’ll be men in that Chamber who have suffered a sexual assault as well and the whole concept of that just can’t be treated that lightly. He made a big mistake. – Yeah, you must’ve
been watching the stuff that’s been going on recently, inquiry into bullying
in parliament and stuff, and it’s very relevant to that. – Yeah, yeah, yeah. – Seeing that that was, that now that’s sort of
coming out a little bit they seem to be going through
a process of self-examination of is this a healthy
workplace or is this a… – Oh it’s so good, it’s such a good thing for them to be doing, and I know it’s really tricky
and there’s issues with, but there always will be, it’s never gonna a perfect
inquiry and there never can be. But there are all sorts
of stories all the time about behaviour. Not necessarily sexual shenanigans or sexual assault behaviour,
but just aggressive, shitty behaviour and yeah,
MPs are, to a large degree, protected by the rules and
it’s a hard one to figure out how to both protect people politically as well as protect
victims of actual assault. – Have a healthy workplace. – Yeah, yeah, yeah. – Yeah, it seemed like along with, there was lots of conversations, like, “Well that’s just the nature
of it, it’s a competitive place with strong-willed people, and
people are gonna butt heads”. But it seemed like, there
must be a line where… – That’s not butting heads. (laughs) – Yeah, there’s definitely
a line, and the fact that they’re being prepared to
look at it for real was good. Was really good. – And the 2017 election, without
getting into it too much. (laughs) – ‘Cause like it totally sucked. Yeah sorry, carry on. (laughs) – Obviously it was a rollercoaster
for all New Zealanders, like it was a very, twists and turns and a million different things happening. To you, what’s the one, do you have one sort of
enduring memory of that time? – Far too many is probably the answer. We got the highest poll
the Greens have ever had in the week after my speech. I think that something had to happen to make a change of
government a possibility, a real possibility. And nothing was gonna change
because everybody was just running the election like
it’s always the same old. – Same old thing everyone always says. – Yeah, yeah. And even
then, it was really close. So, yeah. I’m proud of the speech. I’m really proud of the
speech and always will be. I think it was absolutely
the right thing to do and always will, always will. And I’m proud of the
activism that it created and the conversation it created. Like, you know Sam, he did an amazing job. – Yeah, that was directly
a result of that. – Yeah out of taking all of that passion and turning it into
something really concrete, and that’s what needed to happen ’cause those people
hadn’t been heard at all for such a long time. So, as traumatic as it
was for a ton of us, the outcome that I wanted was achieved. – It seemed to me anyway,
as an outside observer, that you came to represent a
voice for women and for Māori and for people that might not necessarily have so much of a voice,
beneficiaries or… – [Metiria] Yeah. – Was that something that was present in your mind at the time? – Oh, always. Every day. Yeah, there’s no point me being
there if it’s not for them. I mean, it’s great, it was a great job and I really appreciated having the job and all the things that having a job for that long period of time delivers. And you can get selfish,
I think, inside there. But I never wanted to do that. – Right, that you’re
looking out for your career rather than the people
you’re representing. Easy to get that mixed up… – I think I’m a perfect
demonstration of not doing that. (laughs) Not putting my career first. (laughs) Just sayin’ (laughs) – And following the election, you obviously had a
massive life change, right? – Oh my god, I slept for like two months. I tell ya, if you ever
get a chance to do this and people don’t, generally, but being able to sleep any time you want for as long as you like
is just like oh my god. – That sounds incredible. – It was really amazing, yeah. So there was that. And after that, after I woke
up and stopped sleeping, yeah there was quite a big change. (soft guitar music) I came to art school
’cause it was something I always wanted to see
if I was any good at, like I’ve been doing
stitching and knitting and making for such a long time, and I was trying to think, well OK so I don’t wanna
go straight into politics, I’m not going to run for local government. I’m not gonna any of those kinda, I’m not gonna be a consultant for someone in terms of lobbying, I
don’t wanna do any of that. I want a clean break. – Right, or get back into
law was not appealing? – Well no it was a possibility and I do work in the law now sort of, I’m a research fellow at the university. So I work at the Faculty
of Law here, part-time. But I really wanted to try
and learn something new. One of the things that I tried
very hard to do at parliament which I just failed at
dismally, was to try to find a new way of thinking
about parliamentary work, like a design thinking,
which is now a thing that was not a thing then. But I’m always looking for new
ways of thinking about stuff and new ways of doing things, so I thought, “Oh well, this
is a chance to do something completely different”. So I didn’t have a portfolio
really or anything, but they were like, “Ah
yeah come and have a go”. So I did my graduate diploma
in visual art last year. And it was fantastic, like it’s just, it’s really scary doing something
completely new like this. The making isn’t new but
having people look at it and try to assess whether it’s any good, that’s all new. – Yeah. – Thinking about being an
artist is completely new. But I kinda thought, “Well if I don’t think about it like art, ’cause it’s a bit freaky, but think about it as
communication but with things not with words”. Then that kind of made more sense. My political work and my creative work have all been around people, like people are really important to me. So doing garment-based textile art means that I can put people really
centre in the work I’m doing. With the Tūruapō work there
was three Māori women, two old goddesses, Kurangaituku, and then a younger woman, the Astronesian, the first Polynesian in space. With her moko kauae and stuff. They needed to be embodied like the things without the person inside
them, there’s no conversation, I don’t think there’s a
conversation to be had. The next piece of work I’m doing is for the Tuia 250… oh that’s a bit messy, Tuia 250 protest exhibition, which is in November, and that too is about the
three Māori babies a week who are stolen by Oranga Tamariki. Which I’m furious, but
I’m trying not to talk, – [Metiria] I’m trying to make. So, yeah. And that will
be based on the women, on the mothers. And again, it’s a way of, I need to put those women into the piece. These garments will be wearable, even though they’ll be hung
without a person in it, obviously. – But they’re about, sort of
for people and about people? – Yeah, they’re for
people about the people. So they need to be able to have
a relationship with the body and a very direct one. I don’t think I could make
anything that couldn’t be worn. ’cause I just don’t feel like,
it’s not properly activated, it doesn’t exist in the real… – Like it’s living or something? – Yeah, yeah, yeah. For me anyway. I know other
people do it differently. But I need the person inside. – It seems like lots of
the themes of your work now are similar to the themes
of your political career. Like it’s still kind of the
same things that you care about, it’s just sort of a different
means to the same ends. – Yeah, ’cause I’ve been trying very hard not to speak politically but
to do art in a political way. Or at least with some political ideas. The work Tūruapō Astronesian
work is all about Māoris being self-determining and in space, ’cause there’s the whole
Afrofuturism thing took off last year with Black Panther and it’s a fantastic theory
like a creative theory to be part of where
black people are centred in the universe, they’re
centred in technology and have absolute self-determination, and it’s not that you ignore your history, for them in terms of the Middle Passage, and for us here in terms of colonisation, but that you totally recreate
the future for yourself. – That’s a super exciting idea, yeah. (laughs) – It really is, it really, really is. ‘Cause it means that
everything that you’ve suffered becomes a skillset that you’ve learnt, and that’s how you treat your experience and I think that was just like so cool. – Looking back now at when you
watch the news or whatever, do you feel a sense of relief
that you’re out of that world? Or do you miss it? – Yes and no. So some days I miss it, when I see people who are
doing certain jobs and think, “No you’re doing a shit one”. (laughs) “Honestly, we fought really
hard to get you fullas in government, can you
please just do it properly?” I really like shouting
at the telly, it’s great. Just like “ugh!” And
the radio, it’s awesome. But I wouldn’t go back. Being able to wake up in your
own bed and live your own life and not be in such an
aggressive environment is just so fantastic. And plus I just think too, there’s a time where you make your
contribution and you move on. It’s not a job for life that one. I mean OK, for Winston, all right OK. (laughs) We get some, yeah. But they’re doing good,
they’re doing good. The new generation of
MP is a whole new beast and thankfully so. – Yeah, so you’re not in direct
contact with those people on a day-to-day basis? – Not on a day-to-day
basis, oh god that would be, might as well still be employed by them. (laughs) – True, yeah, yeah. – For my own head’s sake, I
need to not be doing the job, even by remote, because other
people have got my job now. Must say they’re doing
a fantastic job, Marama. Other people are doing my job
and they just don’t need me grumping from the backroom. It’s a hard enough job to do anyway, and two, I really do need to step away… – It’s a new time? – Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve
always been pretty good at that kind of compartmentalisation. (laughs) But also I just think there’s a time, you can’t just do shouting
from the background and expect that you’ll be able to
move on yourself, you know. Yeah, so that’s fine. – A very healthy approach. (laughs) – I hope so, I hope so. Yeah, and I’ll tell you what, semi-retired life is not too bloody bad. I mean I’m really pleased with the resilience of the
organisation, actually. Which sounds a bit nerdy, but when you’ve led an
organisation for a very a long time you want it to be real strong, and they are so that’s great. They’re in government and
they’re doing amazing things, just like we always promised we would and that’s marvellous. (soft piano music) Oh. My clitoris has fallen off Stay put. You need to stay put for like
as long as it takes to fix me, fix you. – So I think I’m done, you ready? – Yeah. (laughs) – Yeah. Yes yes, I’m ready. Say yes, lean forward. – All right so here’s my… (laughs) – Here’s my gran Pam. – Ah she’s got like a cape and everything. (laughs) – Yeah I couldn’t picture
her being that different being a superhero, you know,
I figured it’s just her. But I thought maybe the
shawl flying is a bit her… – Yeah it totally is. – Cool. – Ah she’s gorgeous. All right. So I’ll show you mine now. – Yeah, I’m looking
forward to seeing this. I can’t wait. – It’s granny’s fanny. – Amazing. (laughs) I love it. – And her secret superpower. – Is that teeth? – That is teeth, it’s
called vagina dentata. – Yep, powerful. – Powerful, that’s right, yeah. – Out of which life is made,
just think, you come from this. (laughs) Into the world. – Yeah that’s so awesome. – There you go. – Thank you so much, that’s
amazing to sit and chat today. Thank you very much for
inviting us into your space and thanks for being so open
with us about everything. – It’s all good. – It was a great chat. It was so nice. – Yeah it was fun, thank you. – Lovely. (soft guitar music) (soft instrumental music)

Maurice Vega

2 Responses

  1. Over the last couple of years I have sometimes wondered what happened to Metiria after all that shit went down pre-election. And now I know. Pleasing to see …

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