What does a Te Ao Māori specialist do? Designworks’ Anzac Te Reihana Tasker explains
Continuing our series demystifying the industry’s myriad roles, we catch up with Anzac Tasker of Ogilvy’s Auckland-based agency Designworks who, as well as his role as group creative director, is a specialist in Te Ao Māori design – Māori creative knowledge. Here, he explains why the role is necessary – and why he’s working to ‘indigenize’ creative practices.
Anzac Tasker, group creative director at Designworks / Designworks
For a lot of our people, the hardest place to be Māori isn’t in Aotearoa. It’s in New Zealand. We are globally hot and locally not. We can travel the world and find our culture is loved and adored by many, but unfortunately, here at home, the residue of colonialism remains a part of our national fabric.
Although Aotearoa New Zealand has come a long way, we still have much to do to cleanse our nation’s spirit of that thick residue left behind by a wave of suppressive intent. I don’t know if we’ll ever find a day that will be free of it, but it’s our collective responsibility to use our gift of positive creativity to restore the damage that has been done and set a new path for the next wave to enjoy that bright day.
The creative industry is a potent influence on the way our world sees, hears and understands itself. It is a powerful tool used to shape the conceptual landscape of our day-to-day atmosphere. I was drawn to this space because, by nature, we are storytellers; it’s inherent in everything we do as Māori. Storytelling was the primary tool our ancestors used to navigate the Pacific highways – our celestial navigational codes were contained in the form of our stories. With this indigenous methodology it enhanced our desire to explore beyond the horizons to find new destinations never seen before.
I wanted to bring that native stream of thought into the rhythms of our national creative consciousness, to shift the monotone frequencies projected by the industry and help guide us into a style of design and creativity that felt unique and distinctive to who we are as a Treaty-centric nation. I see it as an opportunity to continue to push beyond the familiar horizons.
There are two key areas I focus on: protecting my culture and promoting my culture.
Trust me, it’s a very fine line. Overprotect it and it will suffocate. Over-promote it and you’ll appropriate it. Everything in between this fine line is a well-tuned operation to achieve this balance.
I work across the Ogilvy NZ network. To address the challenges we have on the horizon, we can’t be working at arm’s length. We need to be working as an impactful unit. Every day. Our descendants are counting on us to do so.
A key part of what we do here is to try and create an environment of betterment. It’s not easy, nor should it be. The standard here is high and we tell people before they start, ’ If easy is what you’re looking for, it won’t be found here.’ Nothing we do is easy; we confront difficulty and find comfort in its pressure. So, a lot of it is about creating a positive atmosphere of excellence. We care about each other and the work we do together. With that common understanding, it makes it enjoyable for us as a collective to keep the fires burning in our pursuit of betterment.
How we operate internally is what’s felt externally. It’s a sad, ironic truth, but the indigenous culture of this country can feel very foreign for a lot of people who call this place home. This includes my colleagues and clients, so it’s my responsibility to educate everyone on the beauty and importance of our culture through the work we do together. Bringing people on the journey and providing a safe space to discover enlightenment for non-Māori is a very rewarding part of my role.
Suggested newsletters for you
We have an interesting dynamic in our studio. The teams are never set. We mix things up all the time and I like it that way; we get a chance to experience each other’s practices. Everyone at Designworks has a healthy hunger to do the best work we can. We encourage each other to create an atmosphere of ‘collaborative serendipity.’ My role is to lead that culture by example; the quality of product is simply a byproduct of it.
I’ve been with the family for over 13 years now. Entered as a clueless student, cutting my teeth as a graphic designer. Ironically, the better designer I became, the less designing I did. Although I miss the tools, carving out creative pathways to take my people forward is something I find enjoyment and fulfillment in.
I’ll be clear: I didn’t come to this place to learn my culture. I go to my tribal domains to do that. I came here to sharpen my ability to communicate in the wild. It’s because of that organic growth in both worlds that I can seamlessly weave the worlds together. Because I have ancestorial linear in both worlds, I have a best interest in the prosperity of each; this defines my reason and guides my why. I’ve operated in this space since my birth and will continue post my death. As Māori, we continue an infinite line of work and believe in the practice of intergenerational collaboration. It’s something as a people we are very comfortable with. The knowledge passed down from my whakapapa (ancestral lineage) informs the decisions I made as a child and continues to shape the craft I practice today. Our time here is fleeting, so the opportunity to contribute to the line is thin. I am and will always be a living extension of my ancestors and I hope one day to be remembered as a good ancestor by my descendants to come.
Let’s not forget that our culture was nearly exterminated. That was the objective of colonialism. So, a lot has been taken from our people over many years, and distrust is still an undercurrent for a lot of our people. We need to align on intent before any work starts. The gift I have within my creative skill sets is to use design creativity as a vehicle to revitalize our culture and create a fertile landscape for the next generation to thrive in. Aotearoa New Zealand is a maturing country and we exist in a time of transition and growth. It’s important as creative leaders navigating the transition that we don’t make a clear departure from where we’ve come from. The work we do needs to be recognizable by our ancestors, otherwise, we’ve lost ourselves in the process.
We need genuine indigenous leadership working hard for our culture across the spectrum of our industry. The creative sphere is a very influential megaphone, so the more I can apply my practice here, the further our native frequencies will travel. It’s not about commercializing the culture. It’s about indigenizing commerce.