My name is Prisca Chant (pictured above, centre, with Mekeo dancers from Papua New Guinea in Cairns) and I’m from Tahiti which is the main
Today, my talk will be based on my Master’s dissertation entitled ‘Pacific Diaspora and Contemporary Pacific Art in Cairns’. This talk focuses on the Pacific diaspora in
I spent one month in
It was important in my study to take into account the Pacific Islanders’ ‘First Voice’. As a matter of fact, Pacific communities and artists are well-placed to understand their own needs as they are the holders and keepers of their cultural heritage. Giving a voice to the Pacific Islanders has therefore been crucial in my project as it is only through the Pacific Islanders’ self-empowerment that sustainability of their arts and cultural heritage can be achieved.
I believe this topic is timely and relevant today because
I hope that at the end of this talk you will have a better understanding of the importance of arts in the context of sustainable heritage preservation and development for the Pacific cultures here in
A large population of Pacific Islanders currently live in
The Papua New Guineans represent the largest Pacific migrant population in
Overview of 3 Pacific associations in Cairns/community profile
While I was in
Pacific Diaspora Experience
The majority of Pacific Islanders interviewed stated they were attracted to Cairns because of the tropical weather, the island food, the coconut trees, the friendliness of people, the peacefulness and reasonable size of the city and, for some of them, because they already had family living there. All in all, they feel a sense of place and belonging in
In fact, all cultures are ‘constantly in flux, both shaping and being shaped by social and economic aspects of human interaction’ (Rao and Walton 4). Now that Pacific Islanders are living in
In fact, culture and sense of identity are not fixed entities anchored in time. Rather, they evolve with time and according to the environment and place in which people live and the various encounters in their lives. As Ang says about the experience of migration:
There is ...no ideal-typical migrant, and it would therefore be unwarranted to collapse this diversity of experiences into a master-narrative of the migrant experience when the question of ‘where you’re from’ threatens to overwhelm the reality of ‘where you’re at’, the idea of diaspora becomes a disempowering one, a hindrance to ‘identity rather than an enabling principle’ (Ang, qtd. in Gunew 9)
I think that this principle of ‘where you’re at?’ should also be considered in relation to Pacific art practices. The stereotypical views, instilled by the West, of the Pacific region and its arts is still pervasive today. This must be demystified as
The main Stereotypical views on Pacific Art
The depictions of the
Along side with the pervasive exoticisation of the Pacific, ‘primitivism’ is another term used to describe the art of Oceania as well as of
When talking about Pacific art, the binary opposition between ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ is a recurrent issue. In the eyes of outsiders, ‘the art of the Pacific has always been traditional rather than contemporary’ (Thomas
Art mirrors the changes in society and as ‘societies change, and so must their arts, if they are to be meaningful, functional and express the sentiment inherent in that society’ (Tausie viii). Pacific Islanders must look forward to forge their identity and arts as part of the contemporary world and this does not mean denying heritage and history but, rather, embracing the opportunities that the present offers.
In addition to this, the contemporary Westernization of Pacific art has been often deplored and accused of lacking of authenticity. Pacific artists face a dilemma here - ‘if they produce traditional art, then, it may be out of place in modern society, but if they produce arts which have Western influences, then they may be accused of producing something non-indigenous or non-traditional’ (Tausie 58). But the reality is that, the art of the Pacific region encompasses both customary genres, such as woven fabrics which are still categorised as works of craft rather than art, and cross-cultural works which can be defined as more ‘modern’ as they incorporates Western influences (Thomas, APT 5 27). Both genres are valid and authentic in their own ways and need recognition in the international art world. The art of the Pacific is not only limited to material and tangible art forms but it encompasses an extensive wealth of intangible art production ranging from dances and songs to story telling and poetry. Those cultural practices are inherent to Pacific Islanders’ lives and culture and all these current art forms in the Pacific possess value and validity. ‘Contemporary Pacific art’ therefore refers to all the creative forms of expression currently practiced in this region.
Contemporary Pacific art is, therefore, neither ‘exotic’ nor ‘traditional’ and under no circumstances ‘primitive’. Such stereotypical views of the
Créolisation of Pacific Art
What makes Pacific culture so distinct from other cultures is the dynamic mix of various cultural sources. The history of colonisation, migration and diaspora in the Pacific area brought extensive fluidity among contemporary artists living and working in the region (Chiu 13). Multiple cultural influences have provided a myriad of realities among Pacific artists. It is this vibrant culture that makes possible a dynamic expression in the arts. This process could be defined as the créolisation of Pacific art, which is the encounter of heterogeneous cultural elements creating a new unpredictable and unexpected créole art form.
To give you an example,
The Pacific artists who are now living in
For Pacific artistic and cultural heritage to be sustainable in the long-term in
‘La créolisation est la mise en contact de plusieurs cultures ou au moins de plusieurs éléments de cultures distinctes… avec pour résultante une donnée nouvelle totalement imprévisible.’