Reclaiming Representation

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Friday 14 September 2012
Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh

Gallery guide Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh returns to the blog with a look into the artworks of Angela Tiatia in Home AKL.

Pacific artists working in Auckland are in search of art that can represent their identities and new national consciousness. Home AKL at Auckland Art Gallery is asking critical questions related to this: What is contemporary Pacific art? How should it be critiqued? How does Diaspora affect art making? Why is there a need to reclaim representation?

Pre-conceptions about what Pacific art ‘should’ look like are being broken down. These pre-conceptions result from positioning artists of Pacific heritage as ‘others’. The use of new media and imagery that does not rely on clichéd visual representations of Pacific people has helped to break down pre-conceptions, and Pacific artists seek to ‘reclaim their representation’ in order to counter those imposed on them. The movement to reclaim representation attracts a new audience. The audience can relate to the works on a personal level and it can engage with the audience’s lived realities.

Angela Tiatia is a Samoan artist living in Auckland and Sydney. She has two artworks in Home AKL, both of which work to reclaim representation through acts of subtle protest. Her research-based art practice, which incorporates the video, internet and found objects, makes an important contribution to the exhibition. Material Culture, 2012 collects photographs and objects from online auction websites such as eBay. These were located over a year by typing in keyword search phrases like ‘sexy hula girl’ and ‘hunky Polynesian man’.

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Angela Tiatia, Material Culture (detail), 2012
found photographs and objects, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012

What is presented within the two glass vitrines is a collection of historical photographs. They range back over 100 years, maybe longer. Most photos collected are homogenised depictions of Pacific life from a tourist’s point of view or created for a tourist market. A majority of them are snapshots of tourist interactions with ‘locals’. Material Culture critically views cultural signifiers, underpinned by the idea of otherness, which are used to create the representations of Pacific people.

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Angela Tiatia, Material Culture (detail), 2012
found photographs and objects, commissioned by Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 2012

Tiatia’s video performance, Hibiscus Rosa Sinensis also looks at issues of representation. The hibiscus flower, a Pacific icon, is a focus of the performance. The flower along with the combination of Tiatia’s partially clad body serves as an ultimate point of reference similar to the phrase ‘Hula girl’.

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Angela Tiatia, video still from Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis, 2010
courtesy of the artist

Tiatia slowly eats the hibiscus, literally consuming the stereotype. Her eyes, looking directly at the camera, challenge the audience to question the legacies of colonialism placed upon Pacific women. The work is humorous and subtle, unusual and effective. Definitely, the audience ends up watching this video more than once.