28 February – 18 March 2006: Kirsten Lyttle – Savages

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Gallery 1

Savages is a whimsical yet thought-provoking series of digital prints that challenges the viewer’s preconceptions about race and identity.  Based on 19th Century lithographs of Maori by Western ethnographers, Kirsten Lyttle has constructed highly artificial dioramas where the “noble savage” Maori have been disconcertingly replaced by Chico jelly babies with the smiling black faces associated with golliwogs and “black mammy” dolls.

The work reflects a playful tension between philosophical discourse on racial stereotypes, and personal experience as a woman of both Maori and Anglo-Celtic heritage, raised by an adopted white family – growing up in New Zealand and then Australia, she remembers being called “Chico” in Australian school playgrounds.

In stark contrast with the low-tech construction and engaging appeal of the Chico narrative, the work has been meticulously researched to ensure no Tapu or scared images of Maori were used in the series; the work is not a comment on the Maori themselves, but a statement about the ethnographers who misappropriated Maori and Tapu imagery and projected their own assumptions on to the otherness they perceived.