As this is largely a thematic blog, I don’t really write specifically about events I attend or shows/movies/etc. that I see week-to-week. I’ll make an exception this time.
Last night I attended the opening of an exhibition curated by my friend Loketi Niua Latu at the Hunt Club Community Arts Centre in Deer Park. The exhibition, Fefine Woman, features new works by artists Leanne Clayton (Samoa), friend Lisa Hilli (Papua New Guinea), Nelia Pauline Hoeft-Cocker (Tonga) and Loketi (Tonga).
Working across photography, sculpture, video and installation formats, the artists have put together a unique collection, exploring personal and collective concepts of ‘womanhood’ in contemporary Pacific cultures and their diasporas in Australia. It’s certainly the first exhibition specifically about Pacific ‘womanhood’ I have seen.
Interestingly, the western suburbs of Melbourne have a high Pacific Islander population, but there are many services and spaces that are being underutilised by these communities. Certainly, the power of the arts – particularly contemporary Pacific art – has until now not been fully represented or utilised to bring people together or bridge understanding gaps.
That is set to change in the coming years. Thanks to people like Loketi, an incredible woman whose vision, confidence, and ability to GET THINGS DONE is inspiring to me. In her first year of film school, she made a 45-minute documentary on Tonga and Politics that has been and continues to be shown in academia around the world. Now a curator, this is the first show she has put together that features some of her own work.
And I LOVE Lisa Hilli’s work. Her work typically features her mother/muse, and marries/explores her Australian and PNG identity. Lisa’s mother and my parents are from the same town/ethnic group in PNG, called Tolais. Her video installations featuring her mother are so familiar to me – in one piece in Fefine|Woman, the camera captures, amongst other things, her mother singing a tradition hymn (in the language Kuanua, which my parents speak but I do not understand) from a hymnbook. I’ve heard my mother sing that particular hymn many times. It’s a strange feeling seeing something so intimately familiar presented in that format – something you would otherwise never see. It merely confirms for me the power of seeing people “like you” represented in a respectful, honourable way.
I also really enjoyed listening to the artists discuss the emotions and ideas behind their work. What seems to come out again and again with Pacific artists who work with traditional and contemporary mediums is how traditional cultures – indigenous cultures in general – interweave art and everyday activities. Which is why it is often difficult to explain what art is to traditional Pacific people – Leanne Clayton said a typical response when discussing what art is, is “That’s art? That’s just life!”.
Like many people who seek to live a life on their own terms, meaningful lives, the concept of weaving life and art together is a very sexy one indeed. In a contemporary Western setting for Islanders and Indigenous people, it may mean incorporating traditional practices into one’s own life (as depicted in Lisa Hilli’s work). Or it may simply mean (like in my case) pursuing a career path that enables you create and use whatever talent is yours, in service of something bigger than yourself.
Nelia Pauline Hoeft-Cocker emphasised the importance of doing just that. “Some people can sing, some can’t. Some people can draw some can’t. I sculpt… this is not a choice. It is an in-born talent, and it just comes through me… whatever you can do… you must do that. If you do not, you will not find peace.”
Reminds me of something from Buddha: “Your work is to discover your work, and then with all your heart, to give yourself to it.”
The exhibition runs until Thursday 10 March 2011.
Four free workshops are also being held at the gallery:
Weaving For Pacific Weddings & Funerals Friday 18 February 10.30am – 2.00pm Stencil Making For Tapa Tuesday 22 February 10.30am – 2.00pm Garland Making For Dance Saturday 5 March 10.30am – 5.00pm Pacific Cooking Tuesday 8 March 10.30am – 2.00pm.
Pretty busy right now, but I’ll be indulging my tastebuds with Lisa on Cooking Tuesday.
Before attending REBIRTH PRESENTED BY MANA COUTURE AND THE SOCIAL STUDIO at Collingwood Underground Arts Park, featuring the creations of another Pacific artist/goddess Maryann Talia Pau… but I’ll write about that later 🙂