A NEW xhibition at the Southland Museum & Art Gallery (SMAG) is giving power to the people – through education and information.
Dawn Raid: Educate to Liberate – Power to the People gives an overview of the New Zealand dawn raids in the 1970s, how they affected people, and the activities of activist groups the Polynesian Panthers and Black Panther Party, from the United States.
The exhibition coincides with the release of Pauline Smith’s My New Zealand StoryScholastic series book Dawn Raid, which tells a fictional story based on the raids.
Smith, who is also a lecturer in Pacific Studies at the University of Otago College of Education’s Southland campus, said she originally wanted to write the book because of a gap in knowledge about the events.
Smith said the raids on Pacific Island families started under the Kirk Labour Government and intensified under the Muldoon National Government.
It started as a reaction to the economic crisis at the time, however Smith said the bulk of overstayers were actually from European countries.
“Sixty-six percent were from European countries and 33% from Pasifika countries. But the people who got targeted on the streets and raided in their beds were the Pasifika people, that’s what makes it a racist act.”
She has co-curated the exhibition with SMAG visual arts curator Ari Edgecombe, which will be on show until September.
At the heart of the exhibition is a Pasifika-style 1970s lounge room, with a television screening documentaries, family photos and personal accounts from the time.
“You’re invited… into an era and if you sit for a while you see the nature of what’s actually going on in the room. It’s quite confrontational… and very personable,” Edgecombe said.
To offer more insight about activism and human rights struggles, a public floor talk will be held at the museum on Tuesday night featuring Black Panther Party Minister of Culture and artist Emory Douglas and Polynesian Panther Tigilau Ness.
“I think it’s a very historical moment to have Emory Douglas and Tigilau Ness here at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. They are history in themselves and they’re bringing it to us and our people.”
Edgecombe said even though it was 50 years on from the original Black Panther movement in America, the symbols the party had chosen were still very strong and relevant today.
Smith said the exhibition and the book complemented each other really well.
“I can’t give enough kudos to the Southland Museum & Art Gallery, I might have had the initial idea and the words, but to make it come to life like they have is quite an extraordinary skill, they’ve done things that I’d never have thought of.
“It’s just got the potential to bring so many people together.”