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Guy's World: T-shirts Inspire Curmudgeonly Email

This morning I decided to practice for my impending retirement (in 50 years or so) by writing a curmudgeonly email to Kim Hill in the hope she’d read it aloud on Nine to Noon, making me famous among curmudgeonly retirees, the TV-less unemployed and those lucky people in workplaces where the radio isn’t automatically tuned to More FM.

The anticipation of hearing my work read out by Kim Hill was more delicious than I would ever have imagined. Which voice would she put on? Would she condescendingly point out my grammatical errors and make a savagely cutting put down at the end? Would she do that funny little laugh she does? (you know the one I mean, National Radio listeners). Or, helllooo, would she be kind?

In the event I never found out. Obviously all those scientists and experts from overseas and book reviewers and media commentators were more interesting than my insights. She never read my email.

The master interviewer had been grilling a Te Papa spokesperson about an exhibition of T-shirts by Japanese-Samoan artist Shigeyuki Kihara, featuring bastardised versions of popular brands: KFC becomes KKK; The Warehouse becomes the Whorehouse; Pak ‘n’ Save becomes Fuk ‘n’ Save.

The exhibition flyer says the exhibition “[satirises] the fashion and advertising industries’ glamourising of the pacific” and “also draws attention to some of the large corporations who employ pacific Islanders as low-paid workers.”

The pictured T-shirts were removed from display by Te Papa following legal advice, but have since been returned.

But (much more ironic than Shigeyuki’s T-shirts) Te Papa has come in for a bit of brand satire themselves. A brewery turned Our Place Te Papa into Our Place Te Puba for an advertising campaign, which Te Papa took vigorous exception to. They wouldn’t let the brewery use the ads because it was using their brand for commercial gain. Well helllooo, but isn’t that exactly what Ms Kihara, who sold her collection of cotton undergarments to Te Papa for $1500, is doing?

Here’s the brief missive I sent to Kim Hill (you could’ve read it in 30 seconds, Kim):

Dear Kim,

$1500 dollars for a bunch of T-shirts with really ironic takes on some corporate logos? This is kidstuff - you see it at the Big Day Out and dance parties.

Te Papa looks really foolish paying this inflated sum for munter art. It's completely out of context in a museum anyway, and frankly, 'KKK' and 'The Whorehouse' just isn’t as funny as Te Puba.

Surely, Te Papa can see the irony in their position. Te Papa's art and commerce distinctions are nothing more than the snobbery of the art world. The emperor went to Te Papa and all he got was a crummy T-shirt.


Some of the reportage of the controversy implied Te Papa paid $1500 for three T-shirts – that’s $500 a shirt, which I found outrageous (although Karen Walker or Zambesi would probably beg to differ).

The Scoop editor said these were special T-shirts because they are made by an artist who probably has a fine arts degree. Yes, I thought, I’m sure it would take many $1500 paydays to get Shigeyuki out of student debt.

It turns out there are actually 28 T-shirts in the collection. That’s $53.57 each, a bit closer to recommended retail. My outrage began waning when I worked this out.

My other point was that these kind of satirical T-shirts are standard generation-X wear. What were they doing on the white walls of a gallery, with a bit of social commentary tacked on? Shouldn’t they be adorning the bodies of the youth, like the streetwear they purport to be? My answer partly came from the very walls of Te Papa in the form of the Punkulture exhibition. I really enjoyed the admittedly highly sanitised exhibition of punk era music and culture, especially the Blondie pictures.

So what if I didn’t find the T-shirt collection clever or insightful? Some other Te Papa goers might, although I still think the T-shirts would say more on bodies out in the street, and be seen by more people. The exhibition is on the fifth floor where hardly anyone goes. Most people wouldn’t even know the collection existed if the controversy hadn’t brought it into the media.

With the perspective a day gives, I can see my curmudgeonly email is just a curmudgeonly email. That said, a T-shirt is just a T-shirt.


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