Artist Q+A — Robbie Whyte
Tell us a bit about your collection?
This is a small sample of a large body of images I took during a trip to India in 2017. I was investigating supply chains in textiles, coffee and tea. I was lucky enough to tag along with an absolute power woman. Sam from Little Yellow Bird took me around to investigate her fair-trade and organic textile supply chain.
I was able to see the entirety of the industry from top to bottom. We were in some of the most remote and industrial parts of India. The influence of the modern economy, specifically the textile industry, was jarring and dislocated. It really was a contrast of a primary producing nation and the fashion industry that supports it. It was hard to tell if it was good, or bad. I was also lucky enough to get to do a deep dive on the Indian coffee industry.
Reviewing several coffee estates, all of whom employed hundreds of workers that lived on-site - the colonial hangover was real. It was a tale of aristocracy vs labour class. Confused further by regional race politics. Privileged in my viewing position and access, I am still grappling with what to do with this experience.
I was equally fortunate enough to spend some time exploring the truly utopian society of Auroville. The polar opposite end of the spectrum. I'm not sure if these images are political or not. But as they say, being apolitical is political, and it's certainly indicative of (my) deep privilege.
So, I would hope these images, in some way - even if not overt - hold some power in the conflicted and complicated context in which they were made.
Why do you create?
That's a really good question. One that I have always battled with. It almost always feels frivolous to me. The flip side of that though, ‘creating’ is the only time I feel truly present. It’s meditative and kind of necessary for me.
The only way I feel like I can justify spending time ‘creating’ though, is if there is some way for me to share some political or social justice messaging. So I think that is why.
What inspires you?
Activism. There are some rad people out there fighting really hard for some really important things. Whether it’s the Save Our Unique Landscape campaign at Ihumatao, or the radical regenerative urban agriculture and community development heroes at Common Unity Aotearoa. Or the Te Reo Moari activists in academia and the community.
I am inspired by people that care.
What frustrates you?
Too many things to list here. The current climate has me pretty on edge. Our entire history doesn't help. Political gatekeeping and inaction - specifically on climate change and youth justice is pretty frustrating.
There are so many incredible solutions for problems we face in the world, imagine if we implemented some of them...
How do you get over a creative block?
Very much still working on this. More research always helps. There is always a nugget that pops out of a historical account of an area or moment in a place's history that totally springs off the page for me and is one of the most exciting feelings I can experience.
Who are 2-3 people whose work is inspiring you at the moment?
Mine are often social projects or social enterprise style projects or those corny independent documentaries like ‘seed’. This super rad gardener named Ron Finley (@ronfinleyhq). Common-unity Project Aotearoa. I love Callum Rooney a Auckland based illustrator. Lastly a guy named Lee Ufan and another named Wolfgang Laib. Sorry! I get excited.
Advice for anyone trying to make it in the creative industries?
Keep finding the things that hold your interest. The way that you share work is part of your craft - that you just have to be good at. Generating interesting work and projects can only come from honest and interesting “research” - whatever that might mean for you.
Where can we find more of your work?
My work is slow. I don't have a lot of work out in the world at the moment. You may find it in the future in the form of a social project or something equally intangible. I’ll keep the world updated when it happens on my instagram - @robbie_whyte.