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22 February 2003 —
23 March 2003

Vasanti Unka:
Saffron Sun

Vasanti Unka, Saffron Sun, 2002. Acrylic on paper.
Vasanti Unka, Red Sari. Oil and acrylic on canvas.
Vasanti Unka, study for Tears. Gouache.
Vasanti Unka, study for Moonrest. Gouache.
Vasanti Unka, study for Blend in. Gouache.


Artist’s statement -

I’m a first generation Indian New Zealander. My parents are from India. Here I am, in the middle of two cultures. Standing on the centre line that divides the cultures, not really belonging to either.

I was born in a potato patch. Or near enough to one. My parents grew potatoes. Rows and endless rows of them. In rich volcanic soil, on the hill of the Kohekohe tree. That’s what the Maori people called it. Pukekohe. That’s where my roots are. But hey! I’m an Indian.

I grew up in a close-knit Indian community, in a typical 60s New Zealand town which had a typical fear of foreigners. Ingrained in the roots of the dominant, Pakeha (Western) culture at that time was the belief that all things British were best. As children we (all of us that were not Pakeha) were caught between behaving within our parent’s culture at home and having to conform to the very British, Pakeha system at school.

It was easier to fit in if you tried not to stand out. So we discarded many Indian ways to aid the process of assimilation. Although there still remains an inherent Indianness that we cannot ever lose.

However, on a recent trip to India, to find my roots, I made the discovery that New Zealand is my true home. Not India. New Zealand history is my heritage too. I had a ‘buzzy bee’ and listened to Sunday morning stories on 1ZB when I was a child. I want the Black Caps to win!

Outwardly I am brown skinned. I will never be white no matter how ‘English’ I have learnt to be. Therefore, in New Zealand, I will always be different. But even though I am brown I am not from the indigenous race of this country. Nor am I a native of India. I was born here, but I have no real place here.

So, I live on the common ground between cultures. This is the ragged line that we all (regardless of culture) live along. The place where there is a communal cultural identity that all people can identify with.


→ Vasanti Unka: Saffron Sun, 2003, exhibition card
→ Vasanti Unka: Saffron Sun, 2003, exhibition card

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