Erin Simpson slammed for 'racially insensitive' sculpture of monkey with moko

Erin Simpson slammed for 'racially insensitive' sculpture of monkey with moko
Photo credit: Instagram/Erin Simpson, Parnell.net.nz

Kiwi TV presenter Erin Simpson has vowed to "rise above bullies" after being accused of "cultural appropriation" for sharing artwork featuring Tikanga Māori designs on a monkey. 

In a since-deleted Instagram post which was saved by social media commentator Pebbles Hooper, Simpson shared an image of a monkey sculpture wearing a traditional Korowai feather cloak and tā moko facial tattoos. 

The piece, entitled 'Koro', appears to have been a part of the 'Year of the Monkey' Chinese New Year exhibition that took place in Parnell, Auckland in 2016. The annual event sees artists and celebrities decorate sculptures of the Chinese zodiac animal of that year which are auctioned off to raise money for the Starship Foundation. 

Erin Simpson slammed for 'racially insensitive' sculpture of monkey with moko
Photo credit: Instagram/Pebbles Hooper, Parnell.net.nz

In the comments section of her latest Instagram post, the work has been described as an "absolute slap in the face" for Māori. 

"Why in the world would you go and put these SACRED things on an animal?" one commenter asked. 

"Why would you put a Moko which is to showcase someone's identity on a frrking [sic] monkey? When this is specifically reserved for us? For Humans? For Māori?" 

Erin Simpson slammed for 'racially insensitive' sculpture of monkey with moko
Photo credit: Instagram/Erin Simpson

On Sunday night, Simpson shared a press shot of herself taken "13 years ago" along with the words "rise above bullies". In the caption, she said the photo was taken "when we didn't have Instagram but we sure had bullies!" 

The former kid's TV host said that "haters are always gonna hate", complaining that people "chose to tear Kiwis down rather than support and showcase".

"Forget about those who use shock tactics to target us. Continue to inspire positivity, support and promote friends and NZ Buisness's [sic]," she added, finishing with a list of mental health helplines. 

Simpson did not directly mention the controversy over her artwork, but her latest message was received as a response to the criticism by many, some of whom took issue with her lack of apology. 

"You realise how tone deaf your approach to all this backlash is? Start with a 'sorry' and get educated," one commenter wrote. 

"I felt like you compared me and people of my culture to monkeys in that art piece. It really upset me, is it bullying for me to say that?" another comment asked. 

"Or is it bullying for you to compare us to monkeys through racist contemporary art?"

Several social media users made reference to the shirt Simpson is wearing in the image, which features a graphic print of a woman who may be of Asian heritage. 

Erin Simpson slammed for 'racially insensitive' sculpture of monkey with moko
Photo credit: Instagram/Erin Simpson

"You're called out for your racially insensitive artwork, and you chose to post this pic wearing that shirt and call everyone bullies when you have the opportunity to learn something and be better? Mmmmkaaaay," one comment read. 

Simpson's husband, former The Bachelor NZ star Zac Franich, came to the defence of his partner in the comments section, in a message saved and shared by Hooper.

"I think cultural appropriation is a bit strong," he replied to one commenter. "We are all raised to learn, embrace and celebrate Māori custom, song, language, legend and is therefore a part of one's social construction and their own heritage." 

Another commenter wrote: "Indigenous people of the culture you are using for the items you are selling are telling you that it is harmful and inappropriate and you are still defensive and unable to listen." 

Erin Simpson slammed for 'racially insensitive' sculpture of monkey with moko
Photo credit: Instagram/Erin Simpson

Many of Simpson's other artworks available for purchase on her website feature Māori designs, including a phone case with an image of a tiki on it. 

On her website, Simpson says she was inspired by her upbringing in the Waikato and "our rich history in Maori culture". 

"A great deal of work goes into perfecting these designs, as our heritage is something very close to my heart," the blurb reads. 

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