The problematic question of belonging.

Something I keep returning to in my life is the idea of belonging.  I was born in New Zealand, I’ve lived here my whole life, I am proud to be a kiwi and I have connection to this land that is passionate and emotional… but as first generation New Zealander there is always a little twist of doubt about really belonging.

My Dad was English, my Mum Irish born, but raised in England.  I’ve been to England twice, for short holidays and Ireland overnight, so I’ve not had a chance to feel at home in either of these places.  I’ve toyed with the idea of living in one or both of these countries, and I never have, there have always been too many compelling reasons to stay.  I suspect in part it is because I know they are only mythical homelands.  I do not belong there.

Here at home I see so many people with ties to this place that seem so much more legitimate than my own tenuous grasp.  Where their roots are thick and deeply buried, mine are just thin fibres shallowly under the soil.

During the last seminar we broke into groups to talk about what it means to be an artist in the South Pacific, and I mentioned my discomfort in this, the sense of not knowing if I really belong in my home. Hiria made a really beautiful comment about how home was both a push and a pull.  Like a magnet there is both a positive and negative force, attracting and repelling in equal amounts.  Or like the tide, always going in and out, just like the people visiting the beach pulling in and out of the car park.  I wish I could remember exactly the way she said it, it was much more eloquent than what I’ve written, but the idea, the sentiment, has been percolating with me ever since.

I definitely feel the push and pull.  I long for different places, for new experiences, but there is always something bringing me back or compelling me to stay.  When I am overseas I am always wanting people to notice that I am different, foreign, just as when I am at home I am delighted when I am occasionally asked where I am from because my hybrid accent has confused someone momentarily. It makes me feel more than ordinary, but at the same time leaves me with the sense that I don’t quite fit. It’s paradoxical I know, I both love and hate my foreigness.

The result of all this is that I feel disconnected from culture, or a sense of identity in a wider context, and I suppose that is why a lot of my artwork is inward looking, because I’m not sure what it means to be me in the world. I feel a bit like a silent witness to what is going on around me.

Sometimes I am scared I have nothing real to say.

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