Invercargill Mayor Nobby Clark is unapologetic about saying the n-word during a speech at a public event, adding that he was only using the word to spark a debate about artistic expression.
The mayor said the n-word on Tuesday while speaking at a local arts event that brought together speakers to talk about arts and creativity.
Speaking to 1News last night, the mayor said the n-word six times throughout the interview.
In a video of the event shared on social media, Clark can be heard posing a question: "Does poetic expression override some of our society norms?
"So you've got to close your ears if you've got a sensitive mind now," he said.
"But if we have art or poetry that uses words like queer, n*****, f*** the bitch, which I have heard recently — is that beyond our tolerance as a society, and how does that interface with the right of people within the art world to have freedom of expression to push their points".
When speaking to 1News, the mayor said his initial remarks were prompted by a debate over the content that a potential new council-owned art gallery would be prohibited from being exhibited.
"As a city councillor or mayor that owns and manages a facility on behalf of a community [that] has art expression that refers to things like queer to n***** — which you get in a lot of American art and American media — and then the f*** the bitch stuff as well.
"You know, who controls that?"
He told 1News he "hate[d] that term" — the n-word.
"If a rapper says the word n***** constantly, do you be offended by that? Well, I personally am, and I'll probably go to some lengths to stop that being in an art gallery that we have," he said.
"But again, you're up against art people saying you're curtailing our rights to expression, so where does expression overlap with decency, freedom of speech, and hate speech."
He said the discussion had been prompted for him by Christchurch author Tusiata Avia's book, The Savage Coloniser, which spawned controversy last week after Creative New Zealand funded a stage show adaptation for the Auckland Arts Festival.
Clark opined that one of Avia's poems on James Cook "borders on hate speech" and that "when you have Creative New Zealand who were in the room, at the time, funding that show, knowing in advance that it has that sort of rhetoric, then there are some ethical debates for our community."
The mayor said he knew he would rattle some people in the room by using the word.
"I'm just prompting some thoughts with people," he said.
"Got a lot of good feedback from people that attended, but I knew there would be some that would be a little uneased by the words, but these are not words I use.
"They're words that, if you listen to any of the LA rap music or some of the video stuff that comes out of America.
"You hear people referring to themselves as n*****s, and I hate that term," he said.
In November, the Invercargill City Council voted to fast-track the rebuilding of the Southland Museum and Art Gallery after it committed $39.4 million towards developing the facilities. The institution's original buildings were closed in 2018 due to quake risks.
Two event attendees told the Otago Daily Times that they felt his usage of the n-word was inappropriate and shocked the audience.
"I understood the context and knowing Nobby, you don't get too surprised — but I don't think it is the appropriate language that a mayor should use. Especially in a public event," one person told the ODT.
But Clark said several people had given him good feedback on the speech directly after he had given it and said he was "disappointed" that anyone who thought he was "out of line" didn't talk to him directly.
"They run off to the media, and then I get a bit of a wider assassination attempt that I'm an outspoken person that's not doing a very good job as a white, elderly male and a mayor.
"Which I find is a little bit reverse of what they're complaining about me saying.
"I thought we were beyond colour and beyond age."
Clark has only been in the role of Invercargill's mayor since October after the longstanding Sir Tim Shadbolt lost his job as the city's leader after 24 years.
The mayor defeated the long-time incumbent and high-profile radio broadcaster Marcus Lush with around a 3000 vote lead over the next highest-polling candidate.
He was previously Invercargill's deputy mayor.
The breakfast event series Clark appeared at is supported by the Arts Foundation and Creative New Zealand, with stops around the country this month.
"Each of the 10 events brings together an exciting mix of speakers, including local artists, businesspeople, rangatahi, Arts Foundation laureates and local politicians for coffee, kai and kōrero," according to Creative NZ.