Girl of New Zealand: Colonial Optics in Aotearoa

Michelle Erai

Girl of New Zealand: Colonial Optics in Aotearoa (University of Arizona Press, 2020) presents a nuanced insight into the way violence and colonial attitudes shaped the representation of Māori women and girls. Michelle Erai examines more than thirty images of Māori women alongside the records of early missionaries and settlers in Aotearoa, as well as comments by archivists and librarians, to shed light on how race, gender, and sexuality have been ascribed to particular bodies.

Viewed through Māori, feminist, queer, and film theories, Erai shows how images such as Girl of New Zealand (1793) and later images, cartoons, and travel advertising created and deployed a colonial optic. Girl of New Zealand reveals how the phantasm of the Māori woman has shown up in historical images, how such images shape our imagination, and how impossible it has become to maintain the delusion of the “innocent eye.” Erai argues that the process of ascribing race, gender, sexuality, and class to imagined bodies can itself be a kind of violence