MANUIA! | Curators Talk
An exhibition by Beachcomber Contemporary Art (BCA) @
The American Indian Community House,
11 Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10004
March 15 – May 29, 2010
Ladies & Gentleman …
Art is not a language of any particular culture it is an expression of the human experience at any given time.
Today, we are in new territory for art in the Pacific. Contemporary Pacific art speaks to the world from a position of outward vision.
There really are no rules that we have to follow…we cherish the past yet we look towards the future.
Museums do not understand living Pacific Art.
Museums understand things from the past.
Here is the living; here are some contemporary art statements that dare to challenge.
If you were to romanticise the present you would go back to your coconut trees, to your spears and your mask, back to your hula dancers. We would dream of the paradise state of Gauguin.
My name is Ben Bergman, curator of MANUIA and may I introduce artist and fellow MANUIA curator Mahiriki Tangaroa & video artist Jerome Shedden both of whom arrived in NYC from Rarotonga this morning!
I would like to talk about the conceptual element of the exhibition, its meanings and why we are here in NY.
Firstly, MANUIA’s point of origin…Rarotonga.
Rarotonga is the capital Island of the Cook Islands.
If you picture a small pacific island in your mind, the obvious images become clear, waving palm trees, white sand beaches, lush green mountains, calm turquoise lagoons, big umbrella drinks, dancing hula girls (and boys) ….you get the picture.
And yes, you’re right! All of that is really there!
The romance and nostalgia injected into the mentality of mainstream US society by celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, author James Michener and artist Paul Gauguin have created a potent aphrodisiac, a muscular stereotype.
This is further reinforced by the efforts of Rogers & Hammerstein and more recently Peter Jackson and Tom Hanks.
Curator Mahiriki Tangaroa Writes; ‘European visual documentation of the Pacific has played a powerful role in shaping perceptions of how we interpret and view Polynesian culture. From early missionary lithographs to the lustful, enticing photography that today graces the pages of tourist magazines and travel brochures, these have constituted greatly to promoting the ideals of the ‘Island Fantasy’.’
While it is undeniable that elements of these romantized notions are true of pacific destinations, they are woefully obsolete and a profound understanding is needed.
Rarotonga is a modern pacific oasis replete with world class & award winning resorts, pacific fusion style restaurants, satellite television, the latest Japanese and European motor vehicles, an energetic private sector with zero unemployment, as well as a contemporary art industry that is gaining regional attention.
Rarotonga is the capital Island of the Cook Islands, a Pacific nation that occupies almost 2 million square kilometres of ocean with a population of just 12,000.
Right in the middle of Rarotonga’s main Business District is BCA Gallery. It is a purpose built, concrete/glass art space, something similar to what you would see in Chelsea.
On our exhibition roster in January was world artist Hye Rim Lee, who was shown again at the recently completed Armory Art Fair, Piers 92/94 in NYC.
This is not something that you would immediately expect to see on a ‘stereotypical tropical Island’ and this is a fundamental element of the exhibition MANUIA – Perception.
MANUIA seeks to eliminate historical stereotypes and persistent institutionalized ideas of the Pacific region in which we live and by default, the art that comes from it.
MANNUIA delivers an art statement that expresses the realities of a modern Pacific environment. It seeks to comment, free of cultural expectations and national boundaries. This is a statement of art and it has a point to make.
In his 2002 essay on the dissolution of Pacific art frameworks, artist Mark Cross writes’
‘The slow but necessary decentralisation of Art Exhibition practice which has so clearly been expressed with the Asia Pacific Triennials and the building of the Tjiboau centre in Noumea has offered the world, outside the previously dominant Western Art paradigm, an opportunity to expose their creativity and cultural dynamics to a wider audience.
The extension to decentralisation is logical to the artist however may seem as a horrifying anathema to curators, historians and anthropologists as the stigma remains – and institutions perpetuate it – that if a work of art exists in the third world it has an innate lack of worth but when placed into an urban institutional context it mysteriously acquires a new status.
This is to say that the nineteenth century ‘primitive = inferior’ continues in its modern form as ‘developing country = substandard’.’
While Mark perhaps makes some harsh points, I believe that it is up to the artists themselves (and a few curators) to do something about it.
As JKF himself said, ‘ask not what your country can do for you!!’
So here we are in NYC.
Why NYC?? Why not somewhere else?
Yes, we specifically choose NY.
NYC still stands as a beacon of new beginnings of new understandings.
The vibe here is like no other, NY runs at an astonishing pace, we want to run with it and better yet, offer something new to the city that is in danger of perhaps having seen it all.
NY houses some of the most prestigious art museums in the world; their legacy is overwhelming and inspiring. They stand as a beacon to any and all who desire to achieve a standard of excellence.
And we have an agenda.
We will offer an alternative to outdated institutionalized understandings of what Pacific Art is.
So that when you search a NY art museum archive for Pacific Art, you are not delivered a result that involves a 19th century mask, spear, stone adze or tapa cloth.
So if this art statement is from the Cook Islands, why does it involve New Zealand artists?
The two nations are closely linked.
New Zealand and the Cook Islands share history both modern and ancient. It is said that close to 1000 years ago, seven canoes departed the shores off Avana Harbour, Rarotonga bound for Aotearoa, New Zealand.
The Cook Islands are a free governing nation with independent judicial and political systems, determined by a sovereign constitution.
However, since 1965, Cook Islanders have held New Zealand passports. The relationship is further strengthened by intimate economic links.
New Zealand has also played a support role to Cook Islands Contemporary Art practise.
Between 2001- 2007, Creative New Zealand and the Cook Islands Ministry of Culture executed a highly successful ‘Artist in Residence’ programme based in Rarotonga which further fuelled an existing and quite remarkable phenomenon of artistic growth.
So we stand together once again, and, in a short time we will be honored to welcome an extremely high profile New Zealander to officially open this exhibition!
MANUIA features the artists Michel Tuffery, Andy Leleisi’uao, Michael Tavioni, Kay George Jerome Shedden & Mahiriki Tangaroa.
Their inclusion is not accidental, it is demonstrative of an emergent pacific identity, their expressions of place, time and progress manifest within art materials that are common to all.
MANUIA is a Cook Islands term of sincerity and it is with the upmost that our agenda now be defined.
Ladies & Gentlemen, I thank you for your attention, please welcome MANUIA Exhibiting Artist & Curator, Mahiriki Tangaroa.