The Difference Between Cultural Appropriation And Artful Reverence - Stab Mag
"My main focus right now is just being a role model, giving back as much as I can, and seeing where it takes me." Photo by Quiksilver

The Difference Between Cultural Appropriation And Artful Reverence

“It doesn’t matter how small you feel, you can make it.” – Kehu Butler

style // Sep 15, 2023
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The contemporary consumer biome is fundamentally evolving.

Modern buyers now appreciate values. They like to feel good about what they’re purchasing and how they’re portraying themselves — whether that be on an environmental, societal, or emotional level. 

Of course, the argument against this progression is that corporations shouldn’t be appropriating cultures or greenwashing in order to print a bit of extra cash. 

And, that’s true, if said corporation is profiteering off falsified, disingenuous agendas.

However, if a brand is giving back to communities, supporting creatives, and engaging in genuine conversation around cultural ideologies, how can you fault them for making a couple dollars off their platform? 

Rumor has it that the Australian sales of Billabong’s Otis Carey collection eclipsed those of their famed Andy Irons Rising Sun boardshorts. 

By weaving traditional indigenous culture and art with contemporary surf, Otis managed to go absolutely nuclear. 

Which brings us to Quiksilver’s latest collection — Tai~Kehu.

See you in the tube, me looking out.” Photo by Quiksilver

With the cultural guidance of Māori surfer and all-around entertainer Kehu Butler, Quik has commissioned traditional Tā Moko artists Maia Gibbs and Henare Brookings to design a handful of culturally relevant bits of garb. 

“One of the first steps was finding the artist,” Kehu told me. “It was up to me and my family to figure out who we’d want to do the artwork — and do it in the right way. Me and Maia Gibbs are actually from the same iwi down the line, which is cool. When you’re from the same iwi, you’re just instant family. No matter how distant you are, you call everyone family and you tell them you love them. It’s a super close community, we all check in on each other. We’re really lucky as Māori to be able to have that love and support from each other.

“Working with the artists was great, we were just bouncing ideas off each other. I had my say in what I wanted to be represented, and they helped me weave it into stories through art pieces. “

The main focus of the collection is the Māori god of the ocean — Tangaroa — who has understandably been a pivotal part of Kehu’s life.

“When I was super young I definitely didn’t think I’d be where I am now. I got sponsored at nine years old by Quiksilver, and I figured I’d just see where it went. I’d love to give that opportunity to so many kids back home — especially Māori kids.” Photo by Quiksilver

“My upbringing around the ocean as a Māori was a lot different to a lot of other people’s. Before I even touched a surfboard, I was out sitting in a bucket full of mussels with my granddad. The ocean was like a second home, everything was there — food, entertainment, surfing, diving, fishing. You learn the different dynamics of the ocean at a really young age.”

“When he was two, three years old, I started taking him out on the boat,” said Kehu’s grandpa, who you may remember as the baddest motherfucker on the block. “He learned a lot about the sea, the currents, the tide shifts, I used to take him to just sit and look at the waves, explain why they were breaking in certain places and not in others.”

Eyepatch, face tats, bone earrings — Kehu’s grandpa is the guy. Screengrab from RedBull

“Us Māori have always lived off the water, like all Polynesians,” Kehu explains. “So for me to be able to tell this deeper story within surfing, to acknowledge our ancestors who were living off the ocean hundreds of years ago, it’s special. Unfortunately, there’s not many Māori surfers, because rugby is so big over here. We’ve got the waves for it though, and the Māori who do surf are so naturally talented, because we all get so much water knowledge really young. Surfing’s just not that big here in Aotearoa, so hopefully this collection will inspire people.”

Kehu’s favorite piece is the boardshorts, which feature images of Marakihau — a mythological spirit, descended from Tangaroa, who acts as an ocean guardian. 

“When you wear the boardshorts you have the protection of Tangaroa’s children. Marakihau is a guardian who lurks around in the ocean, so when we’re out there surfing he protects us,” Kehu says, smiling. “That was something I really loved about the collection.”

“A lot of our learning at the Māori schools was done practically. We’d go outdoors and learn through experience, whereas in mainstream school you sit at a desk and use pen and paper. We’re a pretty outgoing, adventurous people, who live our lives outdoors.” Photo by Quiksilver

For the majority of his childhood, Kehu strictly attended Māori schools, and now plans to give a portion of his own royalties from the collection back to a local Māori pre-school — Te Matapihi Kohanga Reo.

“I reckon a lot of people here don’t believe they can be a pro-surfer, which is another reason why I wanted to push this collection,” he says. “Hopefully this will inspire every kid, no matter how small of a town they’re from. The Māori school I went to growing up only had two classrooms. Doesn’t matter how small you feel, you can make it.

“There’s definitely been heaps of young Māori kids who come up to me, and I see so much of myself in them — just shy, cheeky-as kids who just want to know as much about the world as they can. Kinda just won’t shut up, ask too many questions,” he laughs.

“It’s those kinda kids that I want to inspire — I want to give them as much as I can.”

Most people wouldn’t look this good being photographed with a needle in their leg. Photo by Quiksilver


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