The Paradise Economy


From the Fresh Gallery Otara exhibition catalogue for “Foreign Objects”…

THE PARADISE ECONOMY

In Foreign Objects, Samoan multimedia artist Angela Tiatia creates a new museum of objects and imagery sourced from the Internet. Through searches using words like “Polynesia” and “Pacific”, words that are used to describe a region and complex interwoven communities of people, the material sourced paints an intriguing picture of the economics, power and politics of representation of Pacific Islanders and Pacific Islandness in popular culture.

Recently, many museums have evolved to foster dialogue and meaningful engagement with indigenous communities. But museum collecting has historically represented the beliefs, values and disciplines of the collectors, and further, seen as objective representations of people and cultures. In the context of colonialism, history from the perspective of one party is problematic.

Tiatia uses the museum as a medium to identify and investigate the language of collecting, encouraging us to question who the collector is and what is the context of their enquiry. In her re-imagined museum space, she reverses the gaze, assuming the position of the collector and not the collected.

These symbolic objects of representation form a pseudo-anthropological investigation of pop culture and e-commerce, tourism and the trade and exchange of Pacific Islandness. Using the exhibition language of the museum, Tiatia centralises the vitrine[i] putting cultural ideas and perceptions under a microscope.


As commodities “made in our image”[ii], this assemblage of readymade objects is an indirect homage not to the hands (or machines) that made them, or the economic context they represent, but to the cultural references, inspiration and intellectual stimulus that created them. The fact that nothing here is physically made by the artist perhaps represents the distance and dislocation of these representations of the Pacific.

The items in Tiatia’s collection have been purchased largely from the American online shopping website, ebay. Not only are the objects themselves rich manifestations of cultural cringe, the terminology used by buyers and sellers represent a further layer of continued stereotyping and misrepresentation, particularly with regards to the commercial delineation of authenticity.

Foreign Objects is a continuation of Tiatia’s recent interest in the post-colonial dynamics of the tourism industry. Her recent video installation, Neo-Colonial Extracts (2010) is a poignant and raw look at the reality of tourism in the Pacific. Featuring the derelict site of the Sheraton Resort in Rarotonga,Cook Islands, the work identifies the significant economic gain for local communities, and the scale of failure when tourism ventures collapse.

Tiatia’s 2010 video work Hibiscus Rose-Sinensis confronts viewers upon entry at Fresh Gallery Otara. In an exhibition formed largely from readymade objects, the work is in a sense a contextual statement. In a performance featuring the artist herself, a perfect red hibiscus flower is slowly consumed, revealing the face and penetrating gaze of the consumer – a Pacific Islander becomes visible, present, dominant. The red hibiscus, a common motif in contemporaryPacificIsland visual culture, potentially represents the historical and ongoing misrepresentations of simplicity, beauty and the Western concept of paradise. Here it is considered and slowly but surely devoured.

Tiatia’s first site-specific solo exhibition is repatriation of sorts. Her museum of paradise is steeped in the politics of a post-colonial hangover. There is a sense of nostalgia, in the memory of Oceania at the early stages of our relationship with the West, but equally a sense of disempowerment. Stereotypes and colonial ideas, views and framing of the Pacific endure and continue to inform misrepresentations in film, mainstream media and popular culture.

Fresh Gallery Otara is a constantly evolving site for the consideration and commentary on contemporary Pacific Island experience in Aotearoa. Presented here, Foreign Objects promotes a process of reflection, empowering viewers to consider the power play of representation and the politics of museums.

Ema Tavola
September 2011


[i] A glass display case commonly found in museums.

[ii] In conversation with the artist, Grey Lynn, August 2011

FOREIGN OBJECTS at Fresh Gallery Otara

Angela Tiatia’s first solo exhibition, Foreign Objects opens at Fresh Gallery Otara, South Auckland in September.

Foreign Objects explores the consumption of objects, day-to-day exchanges and rituals that have become modern mythology and are used to connect with the Pacific. This exploration ranges from the harmless and humorous to the injurious and absurd.

Angela Tiatia is an Auckland-based artist, raised in both Otara and Samoa. She works in installation, video and performance, and graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts from AUT University in 2010. Past works have been exhibited in the de Young Museum (San Francisco), 100th Street Salon (New York) and City Gallery Wellington (NZ).

The opening reception for Foreign Objects is at 6pm on Thursday 8 September. The exhibition is open to the public from 9 September – 1 October 2011. Join Angela for a discussion about the exhibition from 12pm, Saturday 17 September – all welcome.

Follow Fresh Gallery Otara on Twitter for regular updates: @Fresh274

#KadavuPower

Fiji women were 100% present at the recent UNICEF Youth Congress held at Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa Marae in Auckland. I spoke in a panel about art as a platform for social activism, after sessions by Sainimere Veitata, Co-chair of the Econesian Society at the University of the South Pacific (Suva, Fiji) and Merewalesi Nailatikau, UNICEF Regional Goodwill Ambassador. Merewalesi was crowned Miss Hibiscus and went on to be the first Fijian woman to take out the Polynesian-dominated Miss South Pacific beauty pageant in 2009. She is brains + beauty in a big way!

My South Auckland comrade, Luisa Tora, came to support. Luisa and I are working on an upcoming project to commemorate Fiji Day in the South Auckland suburb of Otahuhu. In an exhibition of posters featuring artwork by 7 Fiji women artists, diasporadic679 will be installed in the windows and public spaces of 6 venues over 9 days. The numerical reference is to Fiji’s international telephone prefix.

The exhibition will be part of the newly re-branded Southside Arts Festival (previously Manukau Festival of Arts) which runs from 14 October – 6 November 2011.

diasporadic679 takes its name partly from Luisa Tora’s made-in-South-Auckland zine, diasporadic and represents an ongoing relationship between Fiji women artists Sangeeta Singh, Margaret Aull, Torika Bolatagici, Dulcie Stewart, Tagi Qolouvaki, Luisa and myself.

The diasporadic679 blog has just been established and will be updated daily leading up to the project which runs from 17-25 October.

WWJD: What Would Jim Do?

I took this photo in 2009. I was visiting Tracey Tawhiao’s salon on the first floor of St Kevin’s Arcade to get specs for two exhibitions I produced there that year. And Jim popped in, and we sat in the afternoon sun and caught up.

Jim Vivieaere passed away on Friday 3 June 2011. I heard through cell phones and text messages and I cried all afternoon. Jim was pivotal in my life and thinking, my work in exhibitions, advocacy and curating.

Under Jim’s guidance, I got my first taste of curating assisting him to produce a show called Niu Dialogue in 2004 at The Edge in central Auckland. I remember feeling so excited after that gig, because I felt like he gave me the trade secrets, the ‘how to’ of curating… I observed how he selected works, considered them in the space, his gracious hosting, his beautiful themed catering, his aura. He was awesome. I feel like that experience ignited my fire for curating and the artform and importance of representing artists.

During my undergraduate studies, I researched Jim’s curatorial and visual arts practice; it represented to me a bold and articulate statement about Pacific diaspora experience. His work and its recognition in mainstream institutions, publications and communities, was so empowering and validating. At the time, Jim was also supporting the exhibition of student work from Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate at Otara’s Artnet Gallery (now Fresh Gallery Otara). I witnessed him working with the same measure of professionalism and artistic integrity at the grassroots as he did in major art institutions.

In 2010, I organised the Curating Pacific Art Forum and Jim spoke with such eloquence about his practice and the struggles and opportunities of working as an independent curator.

We all acknowledged Jim that day. An absolute leader in curating Pacific art.

I loved how hard Jim would fight to impress a point, whether at an exhibition opening or a Tautai Trust gathering… he was such an inspirational, passionate advocate for Pacific art and artists.

This year, I was so humbled that even in ill-health, Jim attended the 2nd Curating Pacific Art Forum. It was noted that we all have ‘Jim stories’ – the many, many ways Jim has influenced our lives and practices as Pacific curators.

Jim’s passing has made me reflect hard. I’ve been thinking about how everything matters… the legacy that is left from the work we do will influence and inspire those that come after.

I feel like my curatorial practice is the product of Jim’s influence, and I want to honour his work and fight in everything I produce.

I think I’ll always think of Jim, in every show that I curate and ask myself, What Would Jim Do?

A beautiful tribute to Jim on Tagata Pasifika [TVNZ] aired on Thursday 9 June 2011