Anyone who knows me well, knows just how much I love and adore my cousin, the artist Danielle Meredith. You would’ve seen me turn up at an exhibition opening looking like I literally just finished work and managed a gulp of water before hurriedly applying lipstick, usually in the reflection of a framed print, or even in the middle of the gallery – using my sunglasses as a make-shift mirror, and you would’ve noticed the beautiful pristine woman beside me: that’s Dani.
As girls, we did everything together and it was evident from very early on that the powers that be, had paired us with absolute finesse. When our grandma made us hard boiled eggs, Dani only liked the yolk and I only liked the egg white. When we coloured in together, Dani liked the bright colours and I found the dark ones interesting. She had a fastidious way of colouring inside the lines, loving applying different shades to different pieces of clothing, whereas I would colour whole families dark brown, or black, or grey, with no regard for the intended shape. If she was picked on at kindy, I was the one who would throw bark at the big boys and scream at them to ‘leave my cousin alone!’ with one hand on my hip and the other pointed right between the eyes of whatever enormous bully stood in my way. But it was Dani who would rock me back to sleep if I woke up after having a nightmare.
I’ve often thought over the years that we should’ve been one person in one body, as separate individuals we inhabit extremes that can only be balanced with the other. I’m very good at starting things, Dani is very good at finishing things. I’m comfortable speaking out and shooting from the hip, Dani ruminates and chooses her words carefully. There is a power between us that I’ve never been able to wholly articulate, even after basing my award winning play ‘Rushing Dolls’ on our relationship. Every major trip I’ve had overseas, or the times I’ve been able to discuss what inspires me, where the words come from and where my ideas are formed – Dani is so intrinsic to everything that touches on those motivations and who I am and who I have become, that I often absorb her into that hip that I shoot from and I forget to see her as an independent woman.
We were in our early twenties and I was studying law and arts, trying to navigate my way through a myriad of dense texts that made me feel like an alien in my own skin. Dani invited me to an arts awards event, it was down town and I remember feeling like I had nothing to wear. When I walked into the gallery, the first thing I saw was a painting of the two of us. It was a moment that changed my life forever. I felt as though there was no better way to exist than to spend ones life honouring and acknowledging those that you love the most. She gave me the opportunity to see myself, the way that she saw me, and when she won second place that evening I howled like a baby and I didn’t care who could see me crying because I had come home.
The years that followed were a matted entanglement of throwing myself into the arts and confronting the part of myself that was scared of ending up poor and homeless under a bridge. I left law school to dedicate myself to becoming a writer, I turned up to my lectures with a different perspective, I wanted to find the connection that Dani had found between herself and her practice. She will never realise completely, the way that she led me out into the world, by example.
Dani was the first person to invite me to the MIT Faculty of Creative Arts, which was then the Manukau School of Visual Arts, for an open day that boasted some of the most interesting and beautiful artwork I have ever seen. She led me through the halls with a huge smile on her face, she had a lot of cool and creative friends who popped up from different spaces, peaking their heads around corners and waving, doing the fingers, rolling their shoulders to a beat in their heads. I was grateful that those same friends welcomed me with open arms and gave me everlasting friendship and support that I enjoy and honour to this day.
Last week I began a new job as the Project Manager for that very same Creative Arts Faculty, at MIT, on Lovegrove Crescent just around the corner from the township that Dani walked me down and introduced me to. I get off my bus, close to where she used to get off hers, and when I walk into my office, the blank walls call out for her bold and wonderfully intricate paintings. There are people in my department who used to teach my cousin, and they trust me based on the trust they had and always will have, in who Dani is as a creative and as person of great integrity. I have heard of ‘Meredith’s’ hanging on the walls of the leadership team, who seek to navigate the institute through national waters and towards an international impact. It gives me an indescribable joy to be known as Dani’s little cousin in such a big place that is full of energy and raw talent. There are paintings of and by my cousin in South Auckland, and there are public spaces safeguarded by my very own family members, who Dani has given immortality through her works.
Dani taught me how to ride a bike with flat tyres, how to ride a skateboard down a broken drive and how to make potions with flowers from the garden, but I wonder if she knows that she taught me how to simply be myself.
The focus of my new role it to lead the development and implementation of both commercial and community opportunities across the faculty. I look forward to nurturing the next wave of Danielle Merediths at MIT, popping up from different spaces, peaking their heads around corners and waving, doing the fingers, rolling their shoulders to a beat in their heads…