Talking with Two Hearts: Navigating Indigenous Narratives as Research

  • Welby Ings Auckland University of Technology
  • Marcos Mortensen Steagall  (Translator)
Keywords: Biculturalism, Feature film, Gender non-binary, Heteronormative, In-betweenness


Floyd Rudman (2003) notes that by enlarge, contemporary theory posits biculturalism as a positive and adaptive phenomenon. However, as early as 1936, commentators like Redfield et al. proposed that “psychic conflict” can result from attempts to reconcile different social paradigms inside bicultural adaptation (p. 152). Child (1943/1970) also argued that biculturalism cannot resolve cultural frustrations and accordingly, they can be more distressing than a commitment to one culture or the other. The tensions these early theorists noted I found significant when writing and directing my recent feature film PUNCH (Ings, 2022). When creating this work I drew on both my Māori and Pākehā (European) ancestry, and my experience as a gay man who was raised in a heteronormative world. In creating the film’s characters I navigated tensions, working within and between cultural spaces as I wove experience into a fictional examination of what it is to be an outsider in a world that you call home. In this pursuit, I often found myself transgressing borders in my effort to give voice to an in-betweenness that was impure and at times disruptive. While being appreciative of cultural values and practices, I sought ways of expressing identities that are liminal. However, in designing the in-between, like many bicultural creatives I faced accusations of diminished purity. Significantly, I found myself encountering a form of cultural monitoring and pressure to reshape what I knew to be embodied truth because it failed to sit comfortably with the presuppositions of culturally anxious funding bodies, producers and distributors. Their opinions as to what authentically characterised cultural spaces (to which they did not belong), proved challenging. This was because ultimately I knew that audiences for the film would contain people from the in-between, from the liminal, the underrepresented and the marginalised … who would be seeking an expression of lived experiences that rarely appear in cinema. Using scenes from the film PUNCH, this presentation unpacks ways in which cultural networking, verification and responsibility were navigated to reinforce an attitudinal position of ‘positive cultural dissonance’ (Faumuina, 2015). By adopting this stance, I no longer saw biculturality as a diminishment or watering down of integrity, instead it was appreciated as a space of fertile tension and creative synergy. Using positive cultural dissonance as my turangawaewae (place to stand), I negotiated a research project that pursued the resilient beauty of in-betweenness in a story of bicultural, gender non-binary, small town conflict and resolution. 

Author Biography

Welby Ings, Auckland University of Technology

Welby Ings is a Professor in Design at Auckland University of Technology. He holds a Ph.D. in applied narratology and is an elected Fellow of the British Royal Society of Arts. His research navigates trajectories across linguistics, typography, education and visual communication design. Welby is also a multi award winning film maker, designer and au­thor. In 2002 he received the New Zea­land Prime Minister’s award for Ter­tiary Teaching Excellence and in 2013 and 2022, AUT University medals for his research and teaching. He has in publication over 50 books, book chapters or research articles that are accessible here: