DO YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW WHO YOU ARE?
Two and a half years ago, I was confronted with this question. My best friend Alison decided it was time that I found out where I had come from and who I was. Initially I did not want to know. I had been adopted at 9 days old and I knew enough about my birth parents to know that I had been unwanted. This feeling of rejection had plagued me all my life. It weighed heavy on my sense of value, even though my adopted parents had loved me.
My theory is, that we are affected when we are forming in our mother’s womb and right from the beginning of my conception she knew she wasn’t going to keep me, she rejected me right from the beginning of my life. So when Alison suggested that I find her, my response was not so encouraging.
Alison however, was not perturbed by my lack of enthusiasm and when my pre-adoption birth certificate arrived, with my original name and details of my birth mother, it changed my whole world.
Have you ever seen those shows on the TV? When families are reunited and everybody is hugging and crying and saying things like,’I have thought of you all my life’. This was not my experience. My initial meeting with my birth mother was intense, difficult, awkward and cold. There were no hugs, no tears and no sense that I was wanted.
She explained to me, rather matter of fact, that it had been different back then and there had been no support for a single mother. Although the real gut punch was that she still hadn’t told her family that I existed. She had adopted me out straight after I was born, she hadn’t told her parents, her friends or even my birth father, no one knew I was born. No one knew I drew breath and I felt she had no value for my life.
As an artist, these are the issues that drive one to create. When I first painted Here I Am, it was more of a knee jerk reaction, demanding my life be acknowledged. How can she still not tell her family I am here? Ok, it was different then, but that was 50 years ago, society has changed. A baby out of wedlock, even a mixed race baby, is not such a big deal any more. But she wouldn’t and she hasn’t, her family still don’t know that I exist.
The feather is from the huia, an extinct bird of New Zealand and I felt that it related to my life, my own non-existence. When Governor Grey visited New Zealand in 1901, a Māori women took the tail feather of the huia bird from her hair and placed it into the hatband on the Duke's head. Upon returning to London, this stunning looking representation of social status became a fashion icon that helped to hunt the native bird to extinction. Everybody wants social acceptance. Is this the reason my birth mother has not acknowledged my life? Other people’s opinions?
Identity is such a complicated matter, because it involves the big questions of life. Why am I here? Where do I come from? Who am I? I did not have the grand reunion like the ones on the tv show and the family from my mother’s side still do not know I exist, but now I know who I am. I know where I come from and the story of my birth. I am part Pākehā, part Māori, I am here and my life matters.
When we know who we really are, we can then be who we were created to be. This strength will give us the courage to embrace life and overcome all the obstacles.
I can choose now how I view myself, I can be the one to assign value to my life. The huia feather is also a symbol of value, something precious. It was traditionally worn by prominent or important people. I give this gift to myself, I choose to believe that I am valuable, important. I am here and my life matters. This perspective changes the meaning of the painting and puts the emphasis on value rather than rejection and knowing who I am has given me this empowerment.
So how do you view your own life? Valuable or rejected? It is Your choice, choose to see yourself as unique, precious and highly valued - like the tail feather of the hula bird!
Kia Kaha, Strength & courage,