"My designs are very much a reflection of myself: a piece born out of different cultures" Francoise Aroha Danoy on the Art of Knitting her identities together.
By Tayi Tibble
Franciose Aroha Danoy aka Frenchie is a 26 year old Franco-Māori, (Ngāti Porou) American-Australian artist currently living in Japan. Her primary medium is knitting and her designs are influenced by her Māori and mixed heritage. Francoise is a supporter of Toi Māori Arts and reached out to us about her mahi on Instagram and we are very glad she did! Her knitwear is incredible (there definitely must been some weavers in her ancestral line, lol). She also has a very big following (nearly 30k!). We talked about her designs, feelings of displacement and creating something new and beautiful from a mix of different cultures.
“I consider myself an artist, first and foremost, who uses knitting as the chosen medium to express myself, my stories, my values, and my culture,” Francoise says. “My designs draw influence from my Māori heritage, where I transform the myths, legends, and other stories into stitches and connect them to the story of why we make.”
Francoise says that her work aims to “remember the past and strengthen the future” while “enriching the present knitting community” by being a representative for the third-space generation.
"I find that my designs are very much a reflection of myself," Francoise says, "a piece born out of different cultures to create something new and beautiful."
She says her journey into her Māori heritage started the same time that she started knitting five years ago. "When I picked up the needles for the first time," she says, "I was hit with a vision of designing my own patterns that drew inspiration from my cultural heritage."
"The idea sort of freaked me out," she continues, "growing up in the United States and France, I had been somewhat disconnected from my mother’s culture."
"Of course, I knew some words and remember some stories, but compared to the connection I had to my French side, where I lived in France, speak French fluently, studied French in college, it was really sparse."
She says however, that her art opened the door for her to connect to a part of herself that she had always shut herself off to due to fear of "not being enough.”
"Growing up I was never considered enough. Living in the States, I wasn’t American because I talked with a funny accent. To my Australian cousins, I was not really Australian. And to the French, I was way too American to be French. "
She says this isn't the first time she has shared her experience of being a third-space person; the knitting community has been very receptive to her story. However this is the first time she has shared her experience and work with audience she has been avoiding for a long time.
She asks, "Would the Māori community keep me out too?"
"Since learning how to design and establishing myself as a designer, I have learned much about my ancestry and where I come from, with this most importantly: I am enough. While I have so much still left to learn, my desire to do so now isn’t out of a need to “prove my Māori-ness” but to enrich my life and, hopefully, empower the Māori community."
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Toi Māori Aotearoa's blog is purposed to keep you up to date with the latest happenings going on both here at Toi, and across the Māori arts scene in Aotearoa, and abroad.