Category Archives: Writing
Props to Sista Zai, storyteller and thought leader, for introducing me to this passage – follow her on Facebook here.
You best believe I’m adding this bell hooks book to my long reading list.
“Even though feminist thinking and practice focusing on connections between racism and sexism helped generate awareness of the way in which black womanhood is devalued in an imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture, individual black females must continually work to challenge and change negative perceptions of our being and our behavior. As teachers, we struggle to resist students and colleagues placing us in the role of mammy caretaker because they have been unconsciously taught that this is a black woman’s place. When I began writing and teaching about the connections between racism and sexism, I was often told that I was so angry. I refused to accept this projected identity. Instead, I would challenge audiences to consider why analysis of race, gender, and class that called into question accepted ways of thinking always appeared to them to come from a place of anger rather than a place of awareness. Often, the individuals who accused me of being angry were masking their own rage at being confronted and challenged.” [emphasis mine]
~ bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom
The passage I bolded is of particular interest me, observing the way liberals respond to critical thinkers, and how people take critiques and analyses that are not personal, really personally. I am questioning what is wrong with being angry, if the anger is about a very real injustice. But I am also thinking about how critical thinkers need to do continuous work on themselves to ensure that the critiques they do offer are not coming from ego (ego-related resentment, envy, etc). Sometimes, that does mean reflecting on the anger we feel, making sure it’s coming from a pure place within us. And if it isn’t, doing the work to release that shit so we can focus on what is essential.
A holistic counsellor recently gave me this intuitive advice and told me to “uncage the Tiger” 🙂 To reject the stifling projections of the male egos who populated my youthful years and influenced a pattern of self-denial and self-diminishment I am only now starting to become aware of. To SPEAK, WRITE, EXPRESS MYSELF CLEARLY with all the courage, conviction and power within me.
So I am learning right now to say “Boy Bye” to anyone who tries to induce my silence, who inhibits my evolution, and who due to fragile egos are intimidated by my expressions. Here’s to speaking unadulterated but loving truth, from the soul.
BELOW is the second piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them. You can read about the Fifty Shades of Blak Exhibition, and the first piece I wrote then performed last night, right HERE.
A brief intro for context: There is an American scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw who coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe the study of how different forms of systemic oppression can intersect and overlap. This is concept that I think about frequently in terms of the world at large, but also in terms of my own lived experience – because I’m not just Black, I’m a Black WOMAN, and a Black DISABLED Woman, so I have and do experience both racism, the specific kinds of misogyny and sexism that Black Women face, and Ableism. This piece is about what it feels like to move through the world in a body that, even though I love it, and the people who love me love it, comes up against multiple kinds of marginalisation on a fairly regular basis.
(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)
Living in a body that is marginalized for three different reasons feels like this: like constantly watching the traffic lights rapidly change from joyful green to halting red, and feeling the joy wane inside you every time.
Black friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a party, at this place, all welcome!”
Black friend says, “oh, I forgot to ask if there’s access… I think there’s only one step…”
Black friend says, “sorry it’s not accessible! The venue is already booked and paid for. But we’ll make sure you can be included in the next event.”
The next event is not accessible either.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I convince myself I have better things to do than be included in society.
I drive on.
NEXT GREEN light:
White feminist friend sends out an invite. “We’re having a discussion, at this place, all welcome!”
White feminist friend says, “no, none of the panelists are women of colour, but we’re talking about universal topics like breaking the glass ceiling, leaning in, and women on boards.”
White feminist friend says, “yeah I hear what you’re saying but we want to stick to topics that affect all women; you can stage another forum that discusses issues affecting Black women and Disabled women another time.”
All women means white and able bodied women, too often. It does not mean me. It probably doesn’t mean queer or gender non conforming people either.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I stay home and read Angela Davis books.
NEXT GREEN light:
Black male friend says, “I’m pro Black… I love my Black mother and my Black sister and Black women in general.”
Black male friend says, “I just think you can be pro-Black and still have a preference for lighter skinned women”.
Black male friend says, “I’m just saying that darker women can be a little masculine sometimes, and that isn’t attractive.”
Beware of the white supremacist who lives within Black skin.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I have to remind myself each time, “yes but not ALL Black men…”
NEXT GREEN light:
White male colleague says, “just so you know I am a huge champion of women of colour.”
White male colleague says, “I’m just saying that being against someone’s culture and someone’s skin colour are two different things.”
White male colleague says, “I think our military should airlift every woman out of that third world hellhole so that those men can’t reproduce.”
This sentiment is echoed by western supremacists five thousand times across the media landscape.
I remind myself of who I am, of my cultural roots, of the beautiful Black men who loved me into existence, and draw strength from them. I send love to all the innocent Black and Brown men in the world who are deemed guilty before the trial they will never have.
Then, I drive on.
NEXT GREEN light:
Former white male boyfriend says, “racism is stupid. You and I are basically the same person. And you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Former white male boyfriend says, tears in his eyes, after the illness that would lead to me becoming disabled, “I love you so much, but… I don’t think I can handle this, handle your condition.”
Every institutional structure says: “Whites rule. Lights rule. Males rule. Able Bodies ONLY.”
I build up an armour, train myself to spot and avoid the supremacists around me and work hard every day not to internalize any of it, whilst staving off the aloneness that marginalization often forces upon you.
This scenario repeats itself five hundred times.
I drive on anyway.
BELOW is the first piece I wrote then “performed” at ‘Fifty Shades of Blak: Performance Night’, inside Blak Dot Gallery last night. It was an intimate, energising evening of performances from a beautiful, powerful and diverse group of women of colour, and I am really lucky to have been invited to be amongst them.
‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ was an art exhibition held as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival this year – and it just took out the Best Visual Art Show Award!!! Curated by force of nature and Blak Dot visionary Kimba Thompson, ‘Fifty Shades of Blak’ highlighted the voices of fifty visual and performing female artists, each addressing issues of stereotyping, colour coding, racism, identity and societal perceptions of First Nations women and women of colour. It was the first exhibition in the gallery’s fantastic new location at 33 Saxon Street, Brunswick. Support Blak Dot!!! Pay them a visit in person and follow them on Facebook here.
Congratulations to the ‘Fifty Shades’ visual artists: Atong Atem | Cora-Allan Wickliffe | Dulcie Stewart | Frances Tapueluelu | Georgia MacGuire | Gina Ropiha | Ira Fernandez | Jasmine Togo-Brisby | Julie O’Toole | Katie West | Katherine Gailer | Kirsten Lyttle | Lily Laita | Lisa Hilli | Maree Clarke | Megan Van Den Berg | Paola Balla | Sarah Hudson | Shona Tawhiao | Tania Remana | Texta Queen | Treahna Hamm | Vicki Couzens | Ying Huang.
(Side note: In 2012, another Blak Dot Gallery show I co-curated with Leuli Eshraghi took out the Melbourne Fringe Festival Best Visual Art Show Award that year; I feel lucky to have even a peripheral association with the second winning show haha!)
BLAK ON BOTH SIDES
(© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.)
Many years ago, I made a little film called ‘Coconut’.
The uncomfortable coconut in question, was myself. It was something I was called as a young person many times. But the larger question I sought to explore through the film, was this:
“If there is such a thing as being Black on the outside and white on the inside, what does it mean to be Black on the inside?”
This is the question that plagued my entire adolescence and young adulthood; when I was tortuously straightening out my beautiful big natural afro, that both my Tolai father and my Tolai mother blessed me with, and wishing I didn’t have all the thoroughly Melanesian features I am proud to have today.
It is the question that rang in my ears as I would deliberately stay out of the sun, because the ever present hum of non-Black racists, and Black colorists, all around me, let me know pretty unambiguously that my Blackness was too Black. That my Blackness needed to be watered down with whiteness both in colour of skin and in content of character.
It is the question that lingered in the background when I was being affirmed by friendly, kindly white racist “friends” for not being like the only other Black girl in the schoolyard (who by the way was my best friend) for being more Martin Luther King to her Malcolm X, for quietly integrating and assimilating before I even knew what that was or that assimilating meant erasing… starving… myself.
It is the question that pained me, deep inside, when white people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and think it was a compliment. When Black people would say “you’re a different kind of Black girl”, and mean ‘coconut’, and know it was an insult.
It is the question that represented the void within me that used to exist. The void left by the absence of a home, language and culture that can haunt Black immigrant kids growing up disconnected from a motherland long left, with indigenous immigrant parents also feeling the pain of that disconnection, and living in a colonial illegal settlement that will only accept you if you reject an identity you are strongly yet subtly encouraged at every turn to never fully develop… to instead stay cocooned and never become the butterfly.
I used to think that not developing those wings of identity would serve me well, somehow; at least allow me to live and pursue my watered down dreams in this white colony to some degree, accepting a second class reality of never feeling at home in my surroundings let alone my own skin and features. A wingless existence. In some kind of spiritual way I felt like turning myself into colourless WATER would allow me to flow into any space and become anything I needed to be to survive in that time and place.
That is true, to some degree. And I know now that this was lesson PART A in the wisdom syllabus that my Tolai Melanesian Black ancestors passed to me as I grew, through a vital and alive INTUITIVE GIFT that only in the last few years I have realised is my genetic family legacy… the gift of being indigenous, the inherited gift of my Black genetic lines on both sides. Guidance from my ancestors.
In the midst of a “rational “white supremacist culture it took me years of honing that intuition to even trust it, let alone to recognise its true origin being my indigenous cultural roots.
But now, I know. And that is my birthright identity. I claim it now, every single day.
Some years ago, a friend sent me a short story she found about the necessity of struggle as a precursor to wholeness. Sadly I don’t know who wrote it, but there is this passage in it that talks about how a restricting cocoon and the struggle that the emerging butterfly has to go through to break free of it, are the Life Force’s way of forcing fluid, WATER, from its body and into it’s wings, so that the butterfly can be as strong as it can be… and be able to fly.
In other words, the WATER came before the flight. So, today I like to think of my coconutty struggle through the confusing wasteland of whiteness and pervasive colorism that I went through, as having empowered me to be as strong as I am today. That struggle, ironically, gave me wings.
Because my ancestors whispers to me were right. Water is LIFE. Water is powerful, and forceful, it animates us and fills us and although colourless it reflects every colour we can see. It is a shape shifter, an adapter. It is an important element to understand, and master, and in some cases become… in order to survive. But once it is mastered and contained it must be directed back to the roots, to our cultural roots, to feed and nourish them,WATER them, so the life of our people can continue. In the person, the water must be forced into the wings, so that they, the butterfly, can fly.
I live so far from the land where my ancestors bodies returned to the soil yet I see with such clarity now that they have reached through time and space every day my whole life to give me guidance, even when I didn’t yet know their names. This is the gift that I say with embarrassment now that I almost forfeited to be accepted into a world that lacks the wisdom that my ancestors – my people – embodied. The gift of being Black on both sides.
Why would I ever want to be anything else?
Appreciating resilient Black womanhood, with 3 poems.
First. In the clip below, poets Crystal Valentine & Aaliyah Jihad name and shame the misogynist/racist toxins I bled out of my system long ago to be free, whole, and at ease in this temple I live in.
After the bloodletting, my inner voice spoke thusly:
“Unconditionally love your body, Black Woman – your proud existence is defiance. And be grateful for the men that won’t come your way.”
Echoes of those words are in this poem.
Second. A celebration of the creative, destructive, regenerative, fiercely protective POWER of the Goddess and all the female bodies she animates… disguised as a defiant clap back to period shaming. Mother/poet Dominique Christina is astonishing and her swearing is divine:
Third. This poem of body acceptance as a skinny Black Woman, by Alyesha Wise, illustrates how avoiding body criticism as an everyday Black Woman is damned near impossible … any self love defiantly flourishes in the depths of some serious shit: “I am not here for the non-believers; I am not here for those who cringe when they see me seeing all of my self. This bodily prayer is strictly between my sight and the sun; and all the good folk who enter the presence of this church with no other words on their tongue but ‘AMEN’.”
A quick post about something funny, moving, and entertaining.
After many recommendations, I finally watched the web series ‘High Maintenance’; it really is a thing of beauty.
Below are three of my favourite episodes so far, in the order you should watch them in (the first two episodes are related).
First up, ‘BRAD PITTS’:
This second one kind of struck a nerve – and features the hungry lady from the video above. Dating after recovering from serious illness, in my experience, can be a little weird – you just hope for someone who isn’t completely freaked out by the realness of your life, and there are many people who don’t want to deal with that. But exposing that reality to someone on the second date isn’t as challenging as having chilli on your… sensitive areas. ‘RUTH’:
And I enjoyed this one about a couple doing the Airbnb hosting thing, putting up with grating house guests (including a couple of Australians) to pay the rent (incidentally the recent episode of ‘Broad City‘ in which they rent out their apartments to international visitors for one night to make money made me laugh so hard). This scenario is really my personal nightmare – I hate people all up in my stuff and personal space. But maintenance guy really helps a brother put his foot down in ‘TRIXIE’:
New post soon, as mentioned.
Sometimes what seems like a tragedy, or the manifestation of your idea of “the worst case scenario”, is actually a tremendous blessing in disguise. I know that seems like a glib line; but it is actually a lesson I have lived and learned, over and over again, thus far in what I feel will be an unusually and extraordinarily long life.
When I suddenly became a paraplegic in 2006, weeks after undergoing spinal cord surgery to decompress a syrinx that had crippled me over the course of two years, and at the end of a 9 year period in which everything that could go wrong in my life went painfully, irreversibly wrong, I was already an in-patient in the rehabilitation hospital where I would learn how to negotiate life in a wheelchair – and experience my first adult spiritual ‘awakening’ (there have been many, since childhood. Each one leads to a new level of awareness).
I was in a dangerously dark place psychologically before the decompression surgery, having sustained trauma upon trauma from physical degeneration, profound loss, relationships with others and a tortured and hateful relationship with myself, whilst having no outlets whatsoever – nor the emotional tools – to process the grief and trauma that filled the ocean within me like an oil spill. During that period I wrote so much and drew so many charcoal and black biro sketches; they were beautiful in the way that a sad depressing song or a dark art film might be, yet brought me no closer to the catharsis I sorely needed.
It is hard to find your way out of a dark place with no one there to guide you how to do it. People in my family, despite their deep and powerful love for me, were not equipped to guide me out of the abyss I was mired in, and barely knew how to cope with their own life aches and wounds – let alone the trauma of seeing me go through circumstances they were powerless to save me from. I needed serious, holistic psychological lifesaving – but the only experience I had had with a psychological professional – a very young, earnest, but out of her depth school psychologist I had to see as a result of truancy – had shattered my trust in them.
In lieu of the help I needed, false tough exteriors had masked for many years the inner turmoil that I feared would engulf me if I ever really acknowledged it. This went on for almost a decade; I tried on the mask of party girl, loner, stoner, freak. I suppressed my natural interests and was ashamed of the purest, most earnest, most vulnerable and most real parts of myself; taking cues from my environment, friends, boyfriends, society, I understood that these parts of me were not acceptable – they made me different in ways that I did not want to be. Ways that I feared being.
But a door to healing opened in rehab. It was a door that those vulnerable parts of me had been silently petitioning the Universe for, even as my conscious mind was clueless as to how to lift myself out of the mess I was in. I was a zombie in the days and weeks that followed losing the normal use of most of my body. And I am a stoic motherfucker; so my instinctual reaction was to focus completely on my physical routines like a factory worker might focus on an assembly line. A set of steps. A job to be done. A ‘to do’ list. Day in, day out, doing the things to make the physios and doctors and nurses all say “good job Pauline!” before retiring to my room at night and releasing a flood of tears silently into my pillow. I was a day zombie, but I was a productive zombie. I was doing what needed to be done.
That is when I learned a very important life lesson: mind and body are truly connected. The physical rehabilitation routines eventually developed into a love of the routines; the love for the routines grew into a love for training in the gym. I became a morning gym junkie, weirdly – became physically strong, kind of ripped and ironically fitter than I had ever been when I was able to walk. I experienced an unexpected unblocking of energy and rush of joyful, sensual, creative and intuitive inspiration; I made art with rainbow colours, made music, rediscovered my sense of humour and went on moonlight strolls through the patient gardens listening to alternative music and feeling, for the first time since childhood, connected to all that is.
And simultaneously, without effort or planning, I accepted my new life in a wheelchair. And kissed goodbye to the past. It was FREEDOM; my first taste of what that word truly means. I was disabled, but man, I was free.
In tandem with this physically induced clearing of psychological blocks, I also – for the first time – had free and immediate access to compatible and intuitive psychological professionals. The resident sex therapist was a beautiful intuitive named Alexa – from memory, she rocked white cowboy boots and a retro dress daily like the fucking star she was. I’d roll pass her office on the way to my weekly meditation class (another first for me, delivered into my life courtesy of my new disability) and peer into the room adorned with rainbow cushions, rainbow stationary, aglow with warm lighting – and feel supernaturally compelled to go in.
One day I did. At the end of my first two meetings with Alexa she gave me two postcards which I still have in my bedroom and meditate on today. The first one was a print of a painting – a beautiful big banyan tree with huge roots in the earth and extending into the sky; one side of the sky was day, and the other night. Throughout this scene are symbolic creatures and sacred symbols. Before rummaging through her desk to find this card for me, she rubbed her belly and told me she had an intuition this picture would somehow be important in my life. I accepted the card with a grateful heart, but sceptical mind; yet the card has been, and continues to be, a signpost of revelations.
The second postcard she gave me moved me on a level that I had forgotten I had; shattering the false social masks that had been holding me together yet imprisoning me for a decade. We had been talking very casually about my life up to that point, and some of the realisations I was having on the other side of “the thing that I feared most” (disability) happening; but she had begun to intuit that despite making serious progress in such a short space of time, there were still some toxic blocks I needed to address – once I left this womb-like centre of rehabilitation and affirmation, and went back into the world. On the card, was a simple black and white photograph of a masquerade mask-covered face in Venice.
After leaving her office that afternoon, I turned the card over. It read:
In my darkest hour silence spoke louder than words
I am lost in a floating dreamscape
I see my face behind a mask
with knowing steps I am lured closer
reflection strips my guise
in the heart of darkness
I see a light
I hear my voice and I am found.
In those words I intuited another important lesson: beyond the artifice of social masks, constructed in the darkness of the fear that who we really are is too broken, too weird, too ugly or too vulnerable to see the light of day, is who we really, truly are. A Light within.
I am learning to live openly as the Light.
The Mask Venezia by Nikita
A few of my posts so far up on the Stella Mag blog:
Jennifer Baing-Waiko has channelled her passion for preserving traditional food systems knowledge into a fantastic new show ‘Cafe Niugini’.
Julia Mage’au Gray reflects on the joys & challenges of reviving & protecting traditional tattoo designs in a globalised world.
PNG-Australian artist & educator Ella Benore Rowe invites you to explore identity & healing through her mask making workshops.
Childbirth death is still alarmingly high in PNG. Today we look at one way we can improve maternal care for our mothers.
As Managing Director of GiDi Creative, Papua New Guinean-Austrian entrepreneur Grace Dlabik is using her talents for social good.
I will post some substantial essays here on ‘Just the Messenger‘ soon. Nothing much to report right now: writing, screenwriting, learning and living simply, as usual.
I hope you are well.
Hey look at this – the first post of the year! Hope you are well 🙂
Just writing, screenwriting and working in (arts) communications & publishing this year – which affords me time to tinker with organic and simple living (really my main hobby, other than ‘Whatsapp’-ing with my enormous family in PNG) and to prioritise nurturing my health. I am also now considering pursuing a gender research opportunity – specifically, I am considering whether I can bring something of worth to this particular task.
Anyway. Just wanted to share a couple of things to kick off this blogging thing for 2015.
‘SISTERS FOR WEST PAPUA’ IN ISSUE 13 STELLA – ON SALE NOW!
As mentioned late last year, I wrote a 6-page feature article on Nattali Rize, Petra Rumwaropen and Lea Rumwaropen for the latest ‘Entertainment‘ issue of Stella Magazine (it’s the cover story for this issue) – which features fantastic articles on some amazing talent coming out of the Pacific! Here are some words from the Editor:
“If we’ve learnt anything from this issue, it’s that we love to entertain. And with the region brimming with so much talent, we are excited to share the stories of some of the most flexible, resilient and inspiring entertainers of 2014.
In this issue, meet the artists who’ve established unique voices in Australia, New York City, Israel, Fiji, and Tahiti. Working in music, film, literature, fashion, and dance, these artists share an interest, not in fame and fortune, but for social reform and social justice.
As much as we like to be a source of positive media for the Pacific Islands, injustice and exploitation is an ongoing challenge for us as we strive to decolonise our lands and our minds.
With our Pacific Youth being anything but pacified, we are excited to announce the launch of the Stella Pacific Writing Prize, a chance to make some noise about something you care about.”
There is also within this issue a little contributor profile on me, in which I admit to enjoying Katy Perry. If all this doesn’t convince you to SUBSCRIBE TO THE MAGAZINE BY CLICKING HERE, I don’t know what will.
Check out the strong cover for Issue 13 HERE.
CONTEMPORARY PACIFIC ARTS FESTIVAL 2015: ‘OCEANIA NOW’
The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival (CPAF) this year will be held from 9-11th April 2015, with workshops being run during March and visual arts exhibitions running until May!
CPAF 2015 will explore the spiritual, physical, cultural and political dimensions of contemporary Pacific identity – situated in the present, the medium between honouring the past and authoring the future. Oceania Now. A space of pure potentiality and agency.
Stay tuned to the CPAF site for updates and ticketing information for workshops and the Symposium. This years festival will include:
5 different Art and Creative Workshops. Including Pacific Photobook Project, Bilum Weaving with Vicki Kinai, Pacific Bling Weaving Workshops, Pacific Fashion Runway Workshop, and Hula Fitness Workshops.
Community Day. Featuring a FREE concert headlined by Radical Son, Children’s Area (a creative village for children and young people with workshops and activities running throughout the day), face painting with artist Ella Benore Rowe, the Craft and Weaving Tent (with Sounds of Polynesia), Interactive Art with Naup Waup (Naup will create work and display his own creations, as well as cultural artefacts from Papua New Guinea), and the Pasifika Fashion Parade featuring participants from the two day Pacific Fashion Runway workshop. There will also be a marketplace with stalls selling a variety of goods.
Traditional Tattooing with Julia Megeau Gray. She’ll be an artist in residence over the three days of CPAF (including Community Day) to demonstrate live tattooing. Julia will be working on individual pieces, and will be available to work on people at FCAC on the 9-11 April.
Woodcarving demonstration with Fono McCarthy. This carver and multi-disciplinary Samoan artist will create an 8ft free standing responsive sculptural work made of native wood titled ‘Gafa Fa’avae’ over 3 days of the CPAF festivities – the work will be completed during the CPAF Community Day.
‘Resonance’ Exhibition. Curated by Chuck Feesago, and featuring work by Naup Waup, Cecilia Kavara Verran, Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Kirsten Lyttle, Chantal Fraser, Chuck Feesago, Leuli Eshraghi, Anna Crawley, Eric Bridgeman.
‘Construction Piece Scores’ Exhibition. CPAF Artist in Residence Ann Fuata will collaboratively develop a work based on ancient intercontinental ocean floor highways that are thought to stretch across the entire Pacific Ocean.
Fiafia Bar – The Festival Bar. 6pm-10pm for the three days of the festival. Step into the Fiafia Festival Bar and witness a Pacific collision of island culture, dance, song, circus and all flavours of contemporary entertainment.
CPAF Symposium. 9-10th April. 25 speakers, 6 chair persons, the PK-CPAF presenters and our keynote speaker Ema Tavola will be progressing a lively and focused discussion on issues relevant to contemporary Pacific arts practice in both an Australian and international context.
I’m looking forward to seeing Stella Magazine Editor Amanda Donigi chair the panel ‘Entrepreneurialism in Pacific Arts’.
A two-day pass or one-day passes are available. To book your place in the audience, CLICK HERE.