in conversation — Jade Townsend

19 July 2023

Jade is a New Zealand-based visual artist and storyteller working at the intersection of her Māori, Pākehā and British heritage. For Townsend, her cultural identity forms in the non-translatable, the left-over and residual aspects of herself for which there is no interpretative counterpoint in relation to the other. We connected with Jade on what inspires her in her art and life.

I am from —

I am a descendant of Te Ati Haunui-a-Pāpārangi and Ngāti Kahungunu through my pāpā and British through my māmā. I am very privileged to belong to many places. I was born in Whanganui and lived there until I moved to Liverpool, England when I was 14 years old. I have continued to move between both places and I’m known by my friends to always be homesick for some faraway island…

I am inspired by —

Hina, our Māori moon goddess. I am fascinated by all our atua (our gods) and the nourishment of living by the Māori lunar calendar.

I am also inspired by motherhood and my kids… It is a bit soppy but life is so magic when you are no longer at the centre of it. I love the way children express their ideas and stories. My eldest son has the perfect languages - art, dance, jokes, singing. I look at his drawings and they give me an insight into his world full of rainbows, mermaids and taniwha - everything alive and in balance.

"I create artworks that unpack and reveal my cultural identity - they are about whakapapa, connections... They celebrate the abundance of my cultural agency and the power of fierce dreaming."

I create —

Artworks that unpack and reveal my cultural identity - they are about whakapapa, connections. I try to provide an audience with a scene or an environment that they can join me in. Paintings that take us underwater or outer space or to a spiritual realm. They celebrate the abundance of my cultural agency and the power of fierce dreaming.

everyday I —

Want to swim in the ocean. I live tantalisingly close to Takapuna beach and I get down there everyday. The shells are incredible and the light at the water informs much of my palette.

I take care of myself by —

I should probably say exercise and eating well but in all honesty it's talking to my mum on the phone. She lives in England and we speak all the time. My mum always knows what I need to hear - be that encouragement when I am finding it hard with my babies or permission to buy a wild outfit when I see something I like.

words I love —

When you offer only three vertical lines precisely drawn and set into a dark pool of lacquer it is a visual kind of starvation: and even though my eyeballs roll up and over to peer inside myself, when I reach the beginning of your eternity I say instead: hell let’s have another feed of mussels.

Hotere by Hone Tuwhare

my favourite Abel scent —

Black Anise because I associate it with a particular wave of refinement and sophistication that it intersected with in my real life. I had weaned the baby off the boob and I was gaining a private life again. I was reclaiming my body, going out at night-time and feeling divinely sexual.