Posts tagged ‘Julia Mage’au Gray’

I’m working with an awe-inspiring group of women on a curatorial project for the 4th International Biennale of Casablanca. A successful grant application from Creative New Zealand was announced earlier this month, and we came together this past weekend to talanoa in real time.

The working title of the project is A Maternal Lens, it will include new work by Margaret Aull, Leilani Kake, Julia Mage’au Gray, Kolokesa Māhina-Tuai and Vaimaila Urale. The exhibition project will open in Casablanca, Morocco in late October.

I’ll write more in the coming months about this project – it’s hearty. I just wanted to share that this weekend’s wānanga in Whaingaroa was filled with the sounds of the ocean and bush, the energy of an exquisite sunset and life-giving sunrise; it was restorative and invigorating. We missed Julia, who was in Australia making marks, but I’m feeling so positive about this project and its unique approach that privileges the roles of mothers / parents (M is for Mothers in the PIMPImanifesto).

I can’t wait to see it come together.

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The 2017 Pacific Dance Festival launched last night in Māngere, South Auckland with a showcase of new and recent works by five women choreographers, Ojeya Cruz Banks (Guam), Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French (Cook Islands), Julia Mage’au Gray (Papua New Guinea), Losalio Milika Pusiaki (Tonga) and Tia Sagapolutele (Sāmoa). 

The poster, featuring an image by Julia Mage’au Gray, who features in the upcoming PIMPI Winter Series exhibition, Lovers Rock, reflects the refreshing regional diversity of this year’s programme. This image of the unique storied markings of Papua New Guinea tattoo on curving brown skin, juxtaposed against concrete and right-angles, is part of Mage’au Gray’s series, Mela out of context, made in response to her recent relocation from Darwin, Australia to Auckland.

The photographic element of Mage’au Gray’s practice was further explored in her choreographic work in the programme, Found Words. As a solo dance work, Mage’au Gray herself performed in response and harmony with a video projection of powerful stop-motion performances, and a moving audio track featuring the late, Dr Teresia Teaiwa reading her poetry, including her iconic, Fear of an Estuary…

Fear of an Estuary
By Teresia Teaiwa

I think I know what a coconut feels like after floating for so long in salt water
And suddenly entering an estuary
This sinking feeling I’m feeling it again
This sinking, sinking feeling

Have you ever heard of a coconut drowning?
I am afraid of estuaries
Somewhere told me they are rich feeding grounds for sharks
I’m not afraid of sharks
I am afraid of estuaries
If I were a coconut I would not want the ocean to meet a river
If I were a coconut you would be salt water
In calm or storm I could always float with you breathe in you until you met fresh water
And then I would sink, sink, sink

If I were a coconut and you were salt water
I would sink, sink, sink when you met fresh water
I would sink, sink, sink

But the wise one said I will not drown

© Teresia Teiawa

The voice and presence of Teresia Teaiwa, who passed away suddenly and tragically earlier this year, was triggering of so many tears. I was left reflecting again on the deep impact Teresia made on the writing and thinking about Oceania and what a privilege it was to know her. I was left with salty tears, and Teresia’s words – We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood (Teresia Teaiwa, As quoted in Hauʻofa, Epeli. We are the Ocean: Selected Works. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2008).

The large scale projection screen at Māngere Arts Centre was ideal to experience Ojeya Cruz Banks‘ short dance film, Tåno’ shot on location in Guåhan/Guam. Her words, representing a Chamorro and Micronesian perspective, and the solo dancer’s arching body in crackling, shady vegetation, with a tar seal highway and the ocean in the background, shot almost as if from the point of view of the forest, made this work mesmerising to watch.

Tai Akaki by Tepaeru-Ariki Lulu French evoked the ocean in beautiful, waves of movement and rhythm, deep hues of blue in lighting and textures. The work spoke to the urgency of rising sea levels and the connectedness of our Islands with a pan-Oceania vocabulary of movement.

Photo courtesy of Raymond Sagapolutele

Tia Sagapolutele’s work, Ave was a force! Part Parris Goebelesque fierceness blended with the grace, awareness and sometimes awkardness of negotiating Sāmoan culture, its practices, stories and boundaries. An energising, heart thumping mash-up of siva Sāmoa, voguing, badass formations and brown girl magic!

Photo courtesy of Raymond Sagapolutele

The final performance of the night was a Tongan extravaganza! Choreographer, Losalio Milika Pusiaki, bought an intergenerational, feast of epic whole-community proportions! I loved it! All colour, no compromise on the length and presence of each component of the story. The men danced, the women danced, the children danced; the costumes from hair comb to ankle ornamentation were exquisite. There is no doubt, Tongans don’t do things by halves. I felt so close to this work, seeing traces of the relationship between Fiji and Tonga, in movement and regalia, in its truth and connectedness between past, present and future.

Photo courtesy of Raymond Sagapolutele

Thank you to Pacific Dance New Zealand; this opening night was uplifting, inspiring and moving. I’m not someone who engages much in the world of dance, but having this festival here in Manukau, South Auckland, and being able to support and share space with these brave creatives, dancers, storytellers and musicians, it means a lot.

Vinaka vakalevu!

Don’t miss out – tickets still available here!

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The third exhibition in the 2017 PIMPI Winter Series takes its name from the title track of Sade’s concept album Lovers Rock.

For curator, Ema Tavola, the lyrics and melodies of the album formed the soundtrack of a period of awakening, of flipping the script and transforming youthful anxiety and torturous and media-saturated negative self-image to powerful, self empowerment. It was played on CDs, contemplated on worn mattresses, in humid afternoons and rainstorms; it was the music that fuelled the decision to leave home and embark on the adventure of moving to Aotearoa.

This exhibition, Lovers Rock, is an homage to radical, transformative self love.

It is a tragedy that the act of truly loving the bodies we inhabit is a form of rebellion, a political position, a choice to consciously reject the media messaging that attaches worth and value to prescribed and narrow ideals that often don’t match our physical and environmental realities.

As pathways and platforms to perform and engage in the act of self love, artists explore, reclaim and unpack the politics of the gaze, unapologetically centralising the brown body, in the frame, in the centre; creating visibility where it didn’t exist. Lovers Rock taps into the necessary re-authoring of the narrative of brown bodies, unburdening the language of our curves and textures, our rhythms and shade.

Practices in Self-Love is the exhibition’s public programme event. In a unique Pecha Kucha inspired sharing format, the exhibition’s artists will share personal approaches for channeling self love and practicing self care. All welcome!

Image credit: Invisible series (2016) by Julia Mage’au Gray

Lovers Rock

Featuring: Melissa Cole, Julia Mage’au Gray, Pati Solomona Tyrell, Serene Timeteo, Jacinda Pini
Opening: 6pm, Saturday 29 July
Practices in Self-Love: 2pm, Saturday 5 August
Exhibition Dates: 31 July – 19 August 2017

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Whilst I was in Suva last month, project managing / co-curating The Veiqia Project and the important process of embedding and grounding the project in Fiji, I started to tune into how many people were asking for meaning, as in digestible translations of the visual vocabulary of Fijian qia or tattoo markings.

The Veiqia Project is a creative research project that has engaged seven Fijian artists to uncover, encounter and respond to the practice of Fijian female tattooing through museum visits, dialogue and literature. Four of the seven artists were able to travel to Fiji to undertake research, talks and meetings and spend time with Melanesian tatu practitioner Julia Mage’au Gray (Papua New Guinea – Australia), who has been researching and reviving tatu practice from Central Province, Papua New Guinea, and developing understanding of its wider relationship to tattoo practice across Oceania.

We came across some fascinating illustrations of qia motifs and designs in the Fiji Museum library. They were recorded in the late 1800s and said to be from the province of Ra. Whilst some notes were made on what the motifs represented (from the perspective of the non-Fijian author), it feels as if meaning associated with this visual language is not something we will ever fully understand.

The artists are working hard, excavating the social, cultural, artistic contexts of the practice of veiqia / Fijian tattooing. And it’s here, meaning is made; they will each interpret their experience of uncovering  knowledge about our cultural heritage as Fijian women into new work, and it’s hoped that the exhibition will tour, evolving to include more Fijian artists and communities.

I was tattooed over the weekend by Julia in Auckland at Big Willie Legacy Barber & Tattoo Studio. She marked both my arms and hands with qia motifs and symbols we encountered in Fiji. For me, the meaning of these marks is related to revival and memory, Fijian art history and the power and prestige of an artform reserved exclusively for women and girls. These tattoos are part of my identity as a Fijian woman, as an artist, as a Melanesian. The meaning of my marks in 2015 is mine; they sit between you and me, perception and reality, art and context…

I woke up yesterday thinking, of all my tattoos, these are my most important marks. They challenge ideas about beauty and aesthetics, history and colonisation, gender and power; they visualise my position, and galvanise my love and loyalty for Fiji.

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