It is going on a month since I relocated my life to Ōtautahi Christchurch with the aim of producing a manifesto of Pacific curatorial practice as the outcome of my residency with the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies at the University of Canterbury.
In living between suburban Rolleston and inner city Tuam Street, I’ve now settled into an office space at the School of Fine Arts, where I spend my days. It is everything I need and more, and I keep thinking about the blessing and privilege residencies present to creative practitioners.
My friend Margaret Aull is currently at the Gathering of Indigenous Visual Artists of the Pacific Rim at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington (USA). She travelled with a delegation of Māori artists and they’ve spent days sharing knowledge, making work, experiencing the world of the mana whenua. It looks amazing. I keep thinking what a privilege it is to have time to make, and share, and exchange stories with other like-minded creative people.
In comparison, my residency has been quite a solitary experience so far, apart from my little companion, who is keeping my heart warm.
I set myself an ambitious task in writing a manifesto. I felt it needed to be structured academically being that this is a research residency, so I made a plan of the areas of enquiry I would pursue using the library collections here at the University.
I’ve had a lovely introduction to the Macmillan Brown Library. In the Library’s special collection stores, surrounded by old paper and hand stitched spines, the smell of the books was intoxicating; a sensory experience of literary history. There seem to be books about everything, but it makes me think about the things that are not written, the language of culture and knowledge that exist in oral histories and in people, in time and space.
Being in the School of Fine Arts has thrust me down memory lane, thinking back to my first year at art school in 2002, aged 19. Last week I sat in on a seminar of postgraduate presentations, invited to offer up critical insights as a visiting “academic”. The experience was invigorating, and revealing; I felt and continue to feel somewhat vulnerable and philosophically lonely in this environment. Not for my lack of professional experience or intellectual capacity, but for the lack of relevance and reflection I see and feel, as a Fijian and Pacific Islander, in the art world and its schools of thought.
Last week, I transcribed almost the entire talanoa which took place at #RealTalk: Safe Space / Best Practice, an event I produced as part of ARTSPACE’s Amor Mundi programme. The concept of safe space and best practice underpin my work, and the idea of writing a manifesto of curating Pacific art. Listening to the insights from panellists Tanu Gago, Leilani Kake and Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai, along with significant commentary from Hūfanga Dr ‘Okusitino Māhina, has been emotional, affirming and uplifting.
This week, I’ve ben trying to consolidate my position…
The lack of presence of Pacific people and ways of seeing in the mainstream art world should not be a revelation to me; I’ve spent the last decade creating and fostering an unapologetic alternative world that decentralises the gaze and re-authors the narrative of our presence.
In this process of finding space to stand in between academia and art, missing my community, and trying to articulate why the mana of the visual language that resonates with me sits with the people/audience, and the time and space it belongs to, I’m starting to get some traction.