For many people, education is synonymous with uniforms and tote trays, assemblies and sports days. The cool terraces of a lecture theatre; the rotating team of tutors. But another form of education has always existed and continues in Aotearoa today: teaching that is grounded in relationships and learning in beloved company.
Past the Tower, Under the Tree: Twelve Stories of Community is a new anthology edited by Balamohan Shingade and Erena Shingade and published by GLORIA Books. It offers a portrait of artists and activists with unique experiences of education and the parallel pedagogies being sustained in living rooms, meditation halls, courtrooms, tatau studios, stages, streets. Together, the stories form a response to the question: What if we took the intimacy of relationships as the anchor, the place from which to reorient questions of education?
Past the Tower, Under the Tree begins with two archetypal stories of teacher and tradition, of relationships that open up an inheritance. In a transcribed conversation with the editors, Mokonui-a-rangi Smith recounts his experience of learning tā moko with the late Croc Coulter. While crafting sacred tools and sailing them from Rarotonga to Tāmaki Makaurau appears as an archetypal story of cultural inheritance, Moko also describes how his apprenticeship was based upon the radical contingency of circumstance. That there is nothing inevitable is also shown by Richard von Sturmer’s path to Zen. Richard narrates a continual negotiation with the practice as his relationship to teacher and tradition changes over time. In these stories, we find curriculums that are contingent on circumstance and community as forms of knowledge not accessible to all. Relational commitments here provide the context for learning to take place.
We then move to acknowledge the companionship of mothers and aunts, those guides given to us through familial bonds. In his depiction of a young Nilofar, Areez Katki inhabits the perspective of his mother long before his birth. The story is a tender portrayal of a young Parsi woman, colourful and vibrant against a backdrop of patriarchal systems. For those who learn from family members, moments of pedagogy are both special and ordinary, impossible and mundane, a gift and a necessity. In Kahurangiariki Smith’s story, spending time with her mother oscillates between the eternal and the everyday: in one breath, the clouds of the Waikato billow up to become clouds of Hawai‘i before her birth; in the next breath, we are brought back to a simple park scene. Profound kōrero gives way to laughter and snacks. For Mohan Dutta, dancing with his aunt Pishimoni is a cherished site of learning, not because of sentimental intimacy but shared solidarity in the context of protest performance. If institutions provide some distance for students to tentatively negotiate the social and political implications of their work, those practising in community settings often bear immediate consequences. In protest marches and the revolutionary politics of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, those bodies in dance are also bodies at risk.
From here, the contributors’ stories begin to widen to encompass whole parties of people. Balamohan Shingade intervenes in the presumption of cultural tradition as a comforting space of belonging. A disciple of Hindustani music, he grapples with its status in Tāmaki Makaurau, where his performances negotiate the idea of India and Indianness in defiance of Hindu nationalism. Through such a vocation, we encounter the raucous and unpredictable path of ‘making kin’. In Terri Te Tau’s piece, we see the portrait of an artist whose self co-arises in relation with others—always contingent, provisional and in flux. Hers is a story of being subjected to surprising situations where learning in its broadest sense is dependent on chance encounters. For Edith Amituanai, the possibilities and responsibilities of relational commitment exceed narrow roles. In the neighbourhoods of West Auckland, she is an artist, mentor, aunty, social worker, teacher and friend.
In the backdrop of an education-industrial complex that delimits possibilities of care, friendships in the field offer an alternative. Dominic Hoey describes the Auckland rap scene when he was coming up in the ’90s, a ‘bootleg academy’ of experimentation, mutual support and demanding work ethic. Similarly positioned outside the formalities of schooling, Catherine Delahunty shows that committed friendships offer a path to understanding Te Tiriti and our social history.
The final contributions consider community at its most expansive: bonds of influence that stretch across time and space, from the bones of our ancestors to the artistic legacies of our predecessors. For Emily Parr, sifting through museum archives and library records of her ancestors opens out to shared processes of reconstruction and resistance: sewing blankets at Ihumātao, safekeeping the stories of Mauao, tea at the convent school in Apia. Daniel Michael Satele takes the expanded community as the place from which to draw out a challenge. Remembering figures of musicians and writers from across the decades who each suffered from a persistent lack of support for their work, Daniel suggests that the condition of artists is one of cumulative existential threat. What kind of community is possible when artists are subject to conditions of material deprivation, hyper-individualisation and widespread disregard for the value of their labour?
The stories in this book take the form of conversations, tributes, appeals, documentations and love letters. They are addressed to the people written of in the pieces, as much as to an anonymous reader. Remembering and re-rendering those who have influenced us is an act of appreciation.
Past the Tower, Under the Tree: Twelve Stories of Community edited by Balamohan Shingade and Erena Shingade, featuring contributions by Edith Amituanai, Catherine Delahunty, Mohan Dutta, Dominic Hoey, Areez Katki, Emily Parr, Daniel Michael Satele, Kahurangiariki Smith, Mokonui-a-rangi Smith, Richard von Sturmer, and Terri Te Tau. Designed by Katie Kerr and published by GLORIA Books.