Chevron Hassett is a Wellington visual artist of Māori (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Rongamaiwahine) and Pākehā (Irish) heritage. Here, he discusses travel aspirations, the importance of family, and the inherently political act of being an artist and an indigenous man.
How have you developed your career? Things were very difficult for the arts in my area, seriously under-resourced and under-cared classes and curriculums. So, as a teenager I would travel to other neighborhoods to meet people in the arts to do workshops or projects, and then this eventually led me into mural painting. At 18 I went to University and in my last year I did this project which got a lot of success. I started receiving awards, got featured in heaps of magazines and media, and this launched a platform of opportunities to happen. Things came flooding in: I got to assist for a National Geographic project and all these exhibitions and public art works. I just took them head on and here we are.
Who are your biggest influences?
Low-key my family. All my family inspires me in many different ways and it makes me so grateful to have a good family and so appreciative for everything they do. But artistically, I’d have to say my community and people and place I grew up. These memories and experiences inform my practice tremendously and ignite the dedication I have towards building my career and producing the art work I make.
Someone has just given you the perfect gift. What is it?
Well actually at the moment my girlfriend and I are currently apart due to the border closure, she’s in Sydney and I am in Wellington. She just made me this beautifully weaved basket from the traditions of the Ngarrindejri people of South Australia and sent it as a surprised gift. I was so blown away – it made me smile so much.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My mum gifted me a Māori dictionary for my graduation and wrote in it, ‘a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in-between he does what he wants to do.’ It’s a very simple thought, but gives me so much peace. I’m proud to be an artist. Every day I’m doing the thing I love and I am passionate about. I just hope others can learn to do the same: be proud of who they are and do what makes them happy in this life.
How does your work comment on current social or political issues?
To exist as an artist and an indigenous man is inherently a political act. I come from a history where my people are abused, oppressed and dehumanized for their existence. So, to uphold a Māori voice is a great responsibility which I try to whakaman and manaaki at every level of my life: within art, within relationships, and within my being. It’s important and valuable for me to understand that and my place in the world.
What’s the most memorable response you’ve had to your work?
I’m quite young and still an emerging artist but some cool things I’ve experienced so far were having students at universities writing essays on my work and people sending snapchats showing their university lecturers using my work or quotes to teach their classes. That is amazing for me, as a boy who got average marks at high school and university, to now see institutions and students valuing my mahi and voice.
Also, one time I was at an opening and this old man who started yarning up to me about how he started liking this young Māori boy’s work from Naenae. He said his name was Chevron and told me I need to see the work. I told him it was me, we both laughed and took a crack up selfie in the reflection of Michael Parekowhai’s astronaut art work with the bro Kauri Hawkins.
What’s something you’ve always wanted to try?
Ok so I really want to travel around New York trying out all their best pizza and burger joints. I love watching food shows, especially F**K That’s Delicious, and it would be so awesome to just spend a few weeks munching out, checking out galleries and having a mean time in New York. What is your dream project? Everyday living as an artist is my dream project, to be honest. But if I could do anything (If any patron/curator wants to support me holla at ya boy), I would love to tour to major cities around the world exhibiting shows and making public art works with communities. Places like Tokyo, Sao Paulo, Berlin and New York would be mean and crazy to experience. I enjoy the richness of cultural exchange, trading ideas and thoughts, but also listening and learning how other cultures live in the world.