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The deliciously bizarre way of the artist

The exhibition is due to open at Tairawhiti Museum in two weeks time and artist Vee Hoy has nothing to show.

She isn't fazed though; this is her modus operandi.

When Hoy arrives at a new location she starts afresh. Now back in Gisborne, the Napier-based artist will seek out interesting people to photograph then Photoshop the imagery to explore themes of identity and categorisation, and present them in her show as large-scale works.

“It speaks directly to our own identities,” says Hoy.

“All my work talks about labelling and construction around identity — not just the positives but the negatives.

“People who have been subjected to labels can be defined by those labels.

“I love finding interesting people, the ones most outside the boxes. I'm a complete juxtaposition from selfie culture. My work is not about being pretty. It's so loud and in your face it's a signal to make people feel uncomfortable.

“The selfie is what you want to show the world. My images show what they are.”

For a long time, photography has not been regarded as “fine art”. Collaged imagery and its surreal impact invests photographic artwork with deeper meaning, says Hoy.

“I take multiple images and stitch them together in deliciously bizarre ways. They're one-off pieces. I don't do reproductions. It kills me every time I hit delete to kill a file — but then it's unique.”

The process is organic, she says. She has no idea what direction a work will go in when she starts off, and loves the process.

“Sometimes they surprise me. I print them big, more than two-metres high. They need to be overwhelming.”

Displacement and identity

Born in Gisborne, and of Fijian and European descent, Hoy was four years old when her family relocated.

“This is really close to my heart,” she says of her return for her exhibition.

“It's so apt. It's a weird thing, being born in Gisborne and having no connection with it.”

Her mixed ethnic identity is what got her started on merging “urban art practice” with her photographic work.

“New Zealand is such a melting pot. The labels we wear as individuals ripple out into society.”

In a note that accompanies a 2018 work included in her Bachelors degree final submission, she talks about a series she began with the aim of exploring the theme of diaspora.

“Being a child of immigrants, I felt, for much of my life, separated from my peers. Even more so being a biracial woman in her late (oh god) 30s and growing up in the 90s. We were some of the beta testers for racial integration and redefinement of social stereotypes.

“The further I dug into this, however, the more I realised that this sense of displacement was not something I was alone in feeling. People feel this no matter if they are from this land or not. The melting pot of culture we are all becoming drives yearning to understand our roots. However, we are a society still founded upon separation and disconnection caused by historical attitudes that still leach themselves into our ideologies.”

Hoy includes text in her works and, as with all elements in each piece — from background colour to composition — typography is integral to the message.

She wanted to play with text and its impact on the subject and the viewer, she says in her Bachelors degree final submission.

“Cross-pollinating my disciplines. The thing I love about graffiti is the impact of words. Much of my street writing has concentrated on the political and social themes.”

Text and typography

A mentor suggested she extend her skills by replacing backgrounds and working to integrate the text and play with how that would change the work.

“This also meant careful consideration of text. Man, the things I know about the history of typefaces now.”

The words and the typography juxtapose with the imagery or get in your face or both.

Subjects know what they're getting into, says Hoy. Which is not to say they are not sometimes challenged by the result.

“It can be uncomfortable. We as humans seem to need to put people into categories and label them without thinking of the repercussions on individuals and society.”

Hoy photographed one woman who identified as Maori but was pale-skinned.

In Hoy's work the woman wears a piupiu (flax skirt) and taniko bodice and is portrayed as a multi-armed figure in a dramatic pose and brandishing a patu. The text in front of her reads “white girl”.

The woman was initially aghast but soon came to terms with it as a powerful statement of uniqueness, pride and personal identity in a cultural context.

“She grew up being called little white girl on the marae her whole life,” says Hoy.

“We talked it through. Embracing your own identity makes you a powerful woman. She said, ‘oh my God, yes I'm a white girl'.

“These words that hurt us and define us can be our greatest power.”

Some people need a little push to get them through the process, says Hoy.

“You can't tip-toe around life. That's our duty as artists. There's no choice.”

NO LABELS: Creative director, documentary maker, writer and artist, Vee Hoy lends her voice to everything from politics, lifestyle, culture, and world affairs. Now in Gisborne she is preparing works for an exhibition at Tairawhiti Museum next month. Picture by Paul Rickard