Rainbow Warriors
Cast aluminium, custom acrylic lacquer
Commission for the Wallace Arts Trust

Rainbow Warriors (2010) is the latest work in an ongoing series utilizing a custom modified version of the infamous, and now ubiquitous, PR24 Riot Baton. The baton was first introduced in to the New Zealand Police via the Red and Blue Squads in instances of police brutality against civil rights protestors during the 1981 Springbok Rugby Tour. The first work in McAvoy’s series, Better Work Stories (He Patu! Ano) (2007), also makes reference to the baton’s appearance in the 1980’s historic police rape trials and the concurrent police recruitment campaign of recent focus in national media.

An edition of Better Work Stories was sold on the auction site TradeMe in reference to Red Squad second-in-command Ross Meurant’s controversial sale of his ‘Minto Bar’ on the site; Meurant’s baton being named after veteran human rights protestor and anti-Springbok Tour figurehead John Minto. It sold to a South African collector for $NZ20,000. McAvoy’s online auction also operated as a discursive platform for issues or stories raised by the work, where members of the public were able to discuss these directly with the artist. Proceeds from the sale were donated to Rape Prevention Education.

Rainbow Warriors extends the conceptual terrain of Better Work Stories into a broader critical engagement with New Zealand national identities. It is coded to resist simple identifications, yet its playfully provocative signifiers may incite viewers to do so. The title makes reference to New Zealand’s history of international level environmental protest, and was painted on the Twenty Fifth Anniversary of the bombing of the first Rainbow Warrior vessel, another yardstick in our historical landscape. The rainbow colours also evoke an association with the homosexual rights protest movement, of which the artist’s mother was a key New Zealand literary member in the 1980’s when he was a child.

The four pairs of batons that evoke the forms of rugby goal posts, along with the hot rod flamed phalluses reference the masculinist, heterosexually-oriented rugby and custom car cultures. In contrast, the rainbow colours speak to the alleged homoeroticism of such cultures, and spectrums of singularity which resist such easy reductions of identity. The cross formation and fire iconography may evoke histories and treatments of homosexuality within Christian churches, further connected to the Wallace Arts Centre’s former history as a religious building. Yet the cross symbol exceeds its particular association with Christianity as an ancient representation of sacred unity and transcendence.