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Cultural appropriation in the fiction of Paula Morris – Pistacchi 1

January 29, 2012

Ann Pistacchi writes: “Morris’s novels and short stories challenge us to reconceptualize how we define and identify – and ultimately react to — acts of cultural appropriation in modern day Aotearoa/New Zealand. Maori characters in Morris’s texts often display seemingly contradictory and ambivalent attitudes towards appropriative acts, with some believing, like the author herself, that ‘if we deny permission to our own, then a ‘real’ outsider…will swoop in at some point and tell our stories for us,’ and others feeling, as the character Jim does in Queen of Beauty, that ‘You could give [foreigners] a story a day and still not begin to use them up’ (p.268).” (Pistacchi, 64)

“in many ways Queen of Beauty” Pistacchi explains, is “as much about the stories we do not tell, or cannot tell, as it is about the stories we do tell and that get retold, or re-visioned, or even (mis)appropriated in other people’s work.” (75)

Pistacchi also analyses Morris’s use of fairy tales, culinary language and consumption, archeological language, bio-prospecting, biopiracy, in this context of cultural appropriation. Pistacchi also touches on, though she doesn’t follow it as a thread of discussion, the moko as a form of storytelling in Rangatira (Pistacchi, 77).

In her analysis of Hibiscus Coast, Pistacchi considers the complexities of cultural appropriation that surround Goldie’s paintings. Quoting the Christchurch Art Gallery, she notes that: “‘Although Goldie may have set out to record for posterity the last survivors of what was then believed by many to be a doomed race, he also saw in the Maori, in their poignant situation at the turn of the century and in their perceived ‘exoticism’ in the eyes of Europeans, a rich source of material for pictorial story telling. His portraits promote a noble race’, and some critics have condemned his work as perpetuating a ‘comforting fiction’ from a patronising European perspective.’”[1]

Most contemporary critics,” Pistacchi continues, “agree there is something disturbing about the way Goldie ‘appropriated’ cultural wealth by creating Westernised images of the Maori for commodification. It is this wide-spread discomfiture surrounding Goldie’s ‘appropriating’ acts that lead to a sense throughout Hibiscus Coast that Emma is not so much ‘stealing’ Goldie’s paintings as she is ‘taking back’ the images of Maori ancestors. This idea is reinforced by Emma’s art school lecturer, Dr. Smelling, who emphatically tells his students that Goldie’s paintings need to be ‘reclaimed and reinterpreted by subsequent generations’ if they are to maintain ‘cultural value’ (p. 93)” (Pistacchi 66)


[1] Christchurch Art Gallery 1999 ‘The much debated portraiture of CF Goldie

Ref: (emphases in green bold, mineAnn Pistacchi (2008) ‘Any dead bodies we can exhume?’ story-blood and the politics of cultural appropriation in Paula Morris’s Queen of Beauty, Hibiscus Coast, and ‘Rangatira’ Sites: a Journal of Anthropology and Cultural Studies. 5(1) [FREELY AVAILABLE ONLINE]

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