Following the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, an illustration by a former Oamaru artist has been shared widely online.
The piece is by Mark Whittet, a 20-year-old former St Kevin’s College pupil living in Wellington, who told the Oamaru Mail he created the piece after seeing the popular rhetoric “This not us” and “This is not NZ” being shared on social media in the aftermath of the tragedy, which claimed the lives of 50 people.
“I, like many, thought that although well-intentioned, this statement is made in ignorance,” Whittet said.
“To say that this is not New Zealand is to trivialise the very real racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia that is prevalent in this country.
“Many minority groups suffer daily from hateful attitudes and this attack is just an extreme result of what happens when we allow casual hatred to breed and then grow into something bigger.”
Whittet said in light of last week’s events, it was important New Zealanders reflected on “who we are as a country and where we want to go from here”.
“I know lots of people have seen my image and thought of it as jarring or attacking but that is not the intention,” he said.
“I don’t want anyone to feel guilt but I want people to reflect on the reality of racism in this country and accept that it exists, because only then can we get better – rather than ignoring this issue we should address it directly and work to improve as a united people.
“The point of piece is not to be anti-white or divide anyone, I love all people from all walks of life, but people need to acknowledge racism instead of getting defensive and pretending we are all considered equal – this is not the case and I believe to say otherwise is to undermine the experience of minorities in Aotearoa.”
Whittet’s artwork has been liked and shared thousands of times between Instagram and Facebook and he said he had received comments and messages from people all around the world.
“I’m glad that so many people are willing to spread this message in time of national grieving,” he said.
“I think that in light of this horrible tragedy a lot of people are opening their eyes to the fact that racism is deeply ingrained here in Aotearoa, a place a lot of people like to believe is a utopian paradise.”
Whittet said there were no “levels” to racism.
“There’s no bad racism and not-so-bad racism, it all comes from the same place and, from there, different people within the same racist environment take actions of greater extremity such as on disgusting act of terrorism on Friday.”
Whittet’s art is a tool for social commentary, and a way to challenge his own, and others’, views.
“I make my work from my own perspective of the world around me and how I see it, unapologetically,” he said.