We travelled by American school bus to the Musqueam Cultural Centre on the morning of August 7. I was excited to learn that the first day of the Pacific Arts Association International Symposium would take place in such a great space. With young people and artists milling around, located in the heart of the Musqueam Reservation and on the water’s edge, I loved the setting and felt excited to deliver my paper within that context.
I always appreciate the opportunity to speak last, and in this case, it was an opportunity to salvage some professionalism after my fellow panelists delivered poorly prepared and disorganised presentations, surprising given that both of them had secured grants to travel and participate in this conference. I have felt the weight of every ounce of investment from those who supported the #2girls1conference fundraising campaign; my paper was a small way to honour those who invested in Leilani and I, and the prestige of this forum.
I was grateful to have a full-house in attendance, and although it was far from an ideal space, the intimate environment enabled some good discussion. I love when Pacific people ask questions but so often those with privilege and agency dominate time and space. It seemed to surprise an Australian conference goer, who had addressed the panel with relatively self-serving commentary for the third time, when I declared that this forum, or rather, any academic forum about Pacific art, has little to no relevance for most Pacific artists making work at the grassroots. They are neither validated, or concerned with what is discussed here because there is a parallel world of criticality, aesthetics and significance that exists between Pacific art and Pacific audiences. I opened the door for what could be hours upon hours of debate and sparked small fires in the minds of those who approached me later to dissect and discover what I had meant.
My position and open declaration of my politics is not what it used to be when I worked as a public servant. I am in a different space, with different loyalties. I no longer represent institutional agendas and received no public grant money to enable my trip; the presumed hand that I was accused of biting with my closing remarks, is in fact not the hand that feeds me anymore.
Instead, my community, my family and my loving partner have been my foundation; as long as I’m making them proud, I’m OK, and after today – I’m more than OK.