“Oh hey it’s Stitch! …. oooh…uhh…is it?”

This is the reaction that Brett Graham’s snitch receives from all who find it. Every. Single. Time.

snitch is part of an intervention of three contemporary works by indigenous artists that was installed in the second floor gallery in December. The rotation also includes Enrique Chagoya’s El Regreso del Canibal Macrobiótico (The Return of the Macrobiotic Cannibal), and Edgar Heap of Birds’ Dead Indian Stories. For most visitors the figure may be the most recognizable form in the museum, but upon closer inspection the sculpture reveals the more somber message of the destructive impact of foreigners on indigenous communities.

One of New Zealand’s most accomplished and well-known artists of Maori heritage, Graham is highly regarded for his ability to abstract complex historical and cultural ideas into formally strong and conceptually, visually powerful works. His sculpture snitch was made for the University of Hawai‘i Art Gallery’s Binding and Looping exhibition. Snitch’s frontal stance evokes the postures of traditional Māori and Hawaiian sculptures, as well as figural sculptures from other cultures across the Pacific. At the same time, snitch is a kind of stand-in for the havoc wreaked on Hawaiian and other Pacific cultures by the influx of foreigners in the late 18th and 19th centuries. As a character in the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, Stitch, an arrival from an alien world, creates chaos wherever he goes and whatever he does, leading to the destruction of Nani and Lilo’s house and the near disintegration of their family.

By appropriating Stitch, renamed “snitch” by Graham as an allusion to his untrustworthiness and seemingly clueless destructive behavior, the artist takes a “lovable rascal” animated character and makes him a metaphor for the impact of foreigners on indigenous cultures. By depicting him as tarred and feathered, Graham uses and American trope of symbolic criticism (if Stitch lived in 18th-century America, his behavior might well have gotten him tarred an feathered).

Brett Graham (Aotearoa/New Zealand, born 1967)
snitch, 2014
Carved foam, tar, feathers
Courtesy of the artist