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Tūpuna portraits helping prisoners connect with whakapapa

Taaniko and Vienna Nordstrom are helping male prisoners remember their whakapapa by dressing and photographing them like their tūpuna. 

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Taaniko and Vienna Nordstrom's portraits of prisoners are helping them reconnect with their whakapapa. Source: Breakfast

Since 2016, through their Behind the Wire - Rangatahi ki Rangatira, the Nordstroms have been taking portraits of men from the Te Ao Marama unit in Waikeria Prison. 

As of June 2021, Māori make up 53.1 per cent of the country's prison population. 

The Nordstroms also take portraits of people in Māori, Pasifika, Native American and First Nations regalia with their Soldiers Rd Potraits.

They have been doing so since 2013.

"We recreate images of our people looking like our tūpuna and the dignified look of old portraiture on marae."

Due to the success of Soldiers Rd, Taaniko Nordstrom told Breakfast herself and her sister-in-law wanted to give back by going into prisons. 

"We saw the power in whakawhanaungatanga and the re-energising of cultural identity," she said. 

"There’s a big disconnection within our own people as well and there’s a thirst for reconnection. If it’s happening on the outside with just normal customers, can you imagine it amplified with our whanau who are more disconnected, more unaware of their cultural identity and suffering the real causes of those disconnections — prison and colonisation."

Nordstrom said the portraits inside Waikeria are about restoring the balance colonisation has taken and have been met with gratitude by the men.

"They understand that we’re going out of our way to come and tautoko and show value and give value to these men.

"The gratitude is something that is always there ... It's reciprocal. We get something from them, they get something from us. It's balance, as all good things in te ao Māori are."

The Nordstroms ask the men how they want to be remembered when the portraits are being done and make them write a letter to their tūpuna.

"You're going to be a tūpuna one day, how do you want to be remembered? Is this how you want to be remembered? It's giving back that obligation that we have naturally on this whenua to protect, to care, to tautoko, to love. It's giving them that obligation back.

"How do you want to be remebered? Is it this, these walls? Or are you going to get out, stay out, and make sure that the choices and the resilience you show reflect who I feel we all are as Māori and te ao Māori?"

Vienna Nordstrom (right). Source: Breakfast