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 I no longer represent institutional agendas and received no public grant money to enable my trip; the presumed hand that I was accused of biting with my closing remarks, is in fact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.
I’m in Vancouver, preparing to speak at the Pacific Arts Associational (PAA) International Symposium at the University of British Columbia this week. Leilani and my first stop from the airport was the Musqueam Indian Reserve; our savvy native tour guide, Terry Point, gave us insights into the politics of land ownership, the background of the impressive new Musqueam Recreation Centre and Cultural Centre and the loss of language. There’s something about being on native land, something that feels like home – it was the perfect way to be introduced to Vancouver.
As the speakers, energy and culture of this Symposium start to manifest around us, I’m reminded of my responses to the last gathering in 2010. I wrote this response at the time; it was inspired by a particularly disempowering experience and generated excellent conversations around the politics of this gathering and the interface of practitioners and scholars, Pacific and non-Pacific.
Whilst I’ve made my position known, and my anti-elitist, grassroots politics have the potential to rub institutional minds the wrong way, Leilani keeps reminding me why it’s important that we’re here.
We have a range of rewards for donations of $20, $50 and $250:
$20 Donation // A SOUTH publication and Thank You card (40 available)
Receive a copy of SOUTH publication (Issue 2), a 48-page full-colour publication about South Auckland arts and culture co-edited by Ema Tavola. This issue features a profile on Leilani Kake as well as writing from Fear Brampton, Reuben Friend, Kolokesa Mahina-Tuai, Ngahiraka Mason and Anna-Marie White. ALSO receive a hand-made thank you card from Ema and Leilani.
Our limited edition fundraising t-shirt has been created in collaboration with Mangere-based emerging artist, Tepora Malo! It’s a bold statement t-shirt that supports the cause AND an exciting young artist who is definitely one to watch!
$250 Donation // A customised guest lecture or workshop on Pacific Arts and Audiences (4 available)
Ema Tavola and Leilani Kake will deliver a guest lecture, presentation or workshop on Pacific art and artists and community engagement in South Auckland. Talks can be tailored for audiences ranging from intermediate age children, secondary or tertiary students to professionals or community groups. Talks can be delivered within the Auckland region.