Visual Intelligences Research Project

Exhibitions : Inspiration To Order : Amanda Newall

Amanda Newall, Mis Tanzania, installation WCA Gallery

Miss Tanzania - documentary images

Amanda Newall (b. 1973) obtained her Postgraduate Diploma in Fine Arts, specializing in Intermedia (2000-2001) and Masters in Fine Arts (2002-2004) at Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is currently a Lecturer at Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts, UK. Her previous positions include Manukau Institute of Technology, Unitec, School of Screen and Performing Arts and Northland Polytechnic, all in New Zealand. She has received several awards including the Arts Council of New Zealand (Creative New Zealand), Auckland City Council Funding, Christchurch Community Trust Awards and was a finalist for the Rupert Bunny Award (Australia) and the Waikato Art Award. She has had solo shows at The New Zealand Film Archive, Auckland (2005), SOFA Gallery, Christchurch (2005), Edinburgh University (2004), Enjoy Public Art Gallery, Wellington, eleven windows on Customs/Commerce street, Downtown Auckland, High street Project Gallery, Christchurch, George Fraser Gallery, Auckland, and the Blue Oyster Art Gallery, Dunedin. Her group exhibitions include Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth; Boquitas Pintadas, Buenos Aires, Malt House Theatre, Melbourne, High Street Project for Art and Industry, Christchurch, Room 104 Auckland, The Moving Image Centre, Auckland, The Physics Room, Christchurch Arts Festival, COCA Gallery, Christchurch, Oblique Community Hall, Otira township, Christchurch Metropolitan Art Gallery and the Linden Gallery, Melbourne. She founded the Christchurch Metropolitan Art Gallery in 1997. She has worked as curator and director at High Street Project Christchurch, The Malt House Theatre, Melbourne and  has made site-specific works in Christchurch, such as Canvass in 2000.

Artist's statement on process

(Mis)Tanzania came about during a trip to Tanzania in April 2006. In Dar es Salaam, I perceived a lot of geopolitical and ethnic transfigurations and paradoxes. A street vendor selling colourful panties entitled 'Miss Tanzania' with an image of a white woman; Maasai warriors on advertisement billboards with cell phones on the savanna; and, of course, the safari tourists’ intense interest in African animals as opposed to people.

These observations aligned with my approach to making art, which gravitates toward ambivalent anthropomorphic imagery and transgressive political (mis)representations. Ambivalence is a mood I try to sustain, since it opens up experiential, conceptual and practical interpretations and suspends the creative process in a state of becoming. I prefer to display ambiguities, provoke inquiries, and instantiate interpretive leeways.

In (Mis)Tanzania images in situ inspired a textual playfulness, reframed personal and geographical modes of transition and captured the flux of changes in a visual statement. On the urban streets I noticed transcultural changes in people’s dressing styles. Modernisations of women’s traditional kanga – a cotton fabric customarily printed with national symbols and slogans – now ironically can display cell phones and light bulbs; the fabric wrap is increasingly superseeded by Western tailored garments with zips and buttons. I located kangas in a market place and thus commissioned a tailor to cut it into a skirt and blouse with semi-Western motifs.

The dress features what ethnographer Mary Louise Pratt calls a «contact zone» of endemic mammals and extraterritorial tourism. The zebra on the blouse is a safari emblem while the giraffe is a national symbol of Tanzania. I appliquéd the word 'KIWI' onto the blouse, a polysemic label signifying the international colloquialism for my ethnic belonging, and, of course, the endemic bird of New Zealand. In Kiswahili the word 'kiwi' means dazzling, visually emphasised by the bright white letters and the radiating light bulb on the skirt. The gloves were handstiched from a stolen hotel napkin, onto which I glued false fingernails. Typically I would also have constructed the costume, but in lack of a sewing machine I commissioned the tailor. I found the wig in a shop decorated with the slogan 'Darling you look fine'; this as well as the other sites of purchase were documented.

The image shows me guarding a gate to an abandoned colonial property on Upanga Street, alluding to the Maasai watchmen ('askari') that are employed by wealthy city residents today. (During the photo session, Maasai men approached me looking on with interest, from the make-up application to the final documentation, while women passed by giggling seeming to encourage the female empowerment presented in the transcultural staging.) The scene negotiates the appropriation of the Maasai as mythical male warriors, contra myself as a female mediator in a cultural interface at once splitting and fusing two colonized cultures. It is like capturing an ethnocentric tourist on an imagined frontier, a heterotopia in medias res, overexposed in a frozen postcolonial 'kiwi cha macho' (blinding of the eyes).