Thorndon

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Thorndon (1975)
Dir. Joanna Margaret Paul

One need look no further than the soft pastel tones of John Kinder’s nineteenth century watercolours for insight into the settler-colonial mindset. Unlike his contemporaries openly promoting the rape of Native bodies for the acquisition of indigenous land, forging pre-contact histories where the land belongs to no one, and working directly with the companies selling indigenous land, Kinder’s work is eerily quiet, quaint. The outright violence of the others’ external colonial advocacy (use the military to kill people, take their land, sell the land to settlers) makes Kinder’s work feel unassuming even though we are well aware of the internal project running concurrently- figures like Reverend Kinder might not have shot anyone, but with a warm peaceful smile they erased and rewrote the belief systems of those with whom they came into contact. Those other artists and their audiences knew they had the worst intentions, but Kinder might have thought he was doing God’s work. Kinder’s paintings are frightening because there is nothing in them to answer back to, just gentle utopias stripped of indigenous bodies and settler-indigenous conflicts alike. The violence is in its absence. Kinder’s world is peaceful because in it the colonising process has long been complete.

The most sinister of Kinder’s images is Auckland from the Verandah of Mr Reader Wood’s Cottage. The frame within the frame is domestic colonial architecture- even if the landscape looking out was hostile it would still be framed the same way. It would still be home. If this was by an ordinary settler we might consider it a means of rationalising how things were in reality on arriving in Aotearoa- no amount of settler naivete could explain away the fact that Māori had taken up arms to protect their land from being sold to too many settlers, and that the government was provoking conflicts in order to confiscate land to sell to new settlers, and so on. (There is something pitiable about this home that can’t find home). But it’s by Kinder. The Reverend’s goal, whether he believed in its Goodness or not, was to take that frame and implant it into the heads of Māori and settler alike so that when Māori looked out to the land they called home they would never ever be able to access it free of that colonial frame. That, for Kinder, is the end of history. Joanna Margaret Paul takes Kinder’s settler gothic arch and follows it with flat concrete, reversing the positive and negative forms so that it’s a gravestone and not a frame. History’s not dead, Kinder’s dead.

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