Charles Williams: Being 'urban Māori', birds, and street art

By Raniera Harrison

It was a longing for his Māori heritage that led world-renowned graffiti artist, Charles Williams, to revive his creative passion.

He's a popular figure on the New Zealand and international street art scene but it's his passion for Māori culture that helped him through his journey.

"It's the saddest thing that has effected us as a people- is they took away who we are," says Williams.

Involved in the NZ graffiti scene for over 20 years now, Charles Williams, or PHAT1, is no stranger to making himself known on train tracks around NZ.

However, he says, he hadn't yet found his true identity.

"We knew we were Māori, we knew, kind of knew vaguely where we were from, but we didn't really know," says Williams.

He now travels the world with his wife Janine, painting large murals of native New Zealand birds.

"The journey of learning about birds and the role that they played within our culture, within Māori culture, really sparked a whole hunger to know who I am as a Māori," he says.

Williams, who is the founder and president of the TMD collective, says he is reflective of a stereotypical urban Māori male.

"I hate to say it but we are a product of colonisation and we are almost the mess of it all."

Now he's found his passion- and his culture- he wants to take it to the world

"That's kind of why we do what we do now- its our purpose...to share the stories, is to share who you are."