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Pacific Arts is the journal of the Pacific Arts Association, an international organization devoted to the study of the arts of Oceania (Aboriginal Australia and the Pacific Islands). The journal was established in 1990 and is currently issued as an annual volume in a new series that began in 2006. In 2020, the journal moved to eScholarship, the open access scholarly publishing program of the University of California/California Digital Library.

Art and Environment in Oceania

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Pacific Arts N.S. Vol. 20 No. 1 (2020-2021)

Art and Environment in Oceania

A Message from the President of the Pacific Arts Association

This is the Pacific Arts Association’s first issue of Pacific Arts utilizing an open access on-line journal platform. Pacific Arts has been published for more than four decades and has been a valuable vehicle for scholarship focusing on the arts of the Pacific region. For many years it was one of the few journals that would accept Pacific material. Today, however, Pacific Arts and Oceanic Visual Studies are not only acknowledged with numerous labels, they link with multiple disciplines that investigate the artistic production of the region.


Introduction to this special issue on "Art and Environment in Oceania"

This special issue of Pacific Arts considers the role of artistic production in relation to climate change in Oceania. Anthropogenic environmental degradation has emerged as a key theme for many scholars within the Pacific Arts Association (PAA), and the proliferation of work on this topic comes as no surprise considering Oceania is on the “frontlines” of anthropogenic climate change as one of the world’s regions most threatened by rising sea levels, extreme weather events, and warming atmospheric temperatures. In the face of such ecological crises, artistic production and creative expression are a crucial means by which people in Oceania and its diaspora are fighting for climate justice. The present issue features the work of artists and visual studies scholars who address climate change and focuses on contemporary art and recent exhibitions that engage with environmental issues and their intersections with colonial histories, Indigenous sovereignty, and global capitalism.

Gestures of Survivance: Angela Tiatia’s Lick and Feminist Environmental Performance Art in Oceania

This article describes Sāmoan-Australian artist Angela Tiatia’s performance video Lick (2015) as an act of Pacific Islander survivance. Recorded in and with the coastal waters of Tuvalu, the work emphasizes a direct and responsive encounter with the Pacific Ocean. The video’s intentional emphasis on Tiatia’s malu, a tattoo specific to Sāmoan women, and her choregraphed leg and hand gestures of balance represent a powerful visual proclamation of Tiatia’s Oceanic feminist relationship with the ocean. Her performance is an important challenge to the exotifying impulses of environmental documentaries and mainstream media that often represent Pacific Islanders as passive victims of sea level rise. In the context of current decolonizing performance literature and practices in Oceania, Lick is read as a strategic hydrochoreography—an embodied art practice that expresses the lively interconnection of body-ocean rhythms needed to sustain Indigenous futures.

ʻĀina in Contemporary Art of Hawaiʻi

In this article, Healoha Johnston considers how five contemporary artists describe the interconnectivity of the environment and aloha ʻāina through their work. Recent installations and exhibitions featuring artwork by Bernice Akamine, Maile Andrade, Sean Browne, Imaikalani Kalahele, and Abigail Romanchak engage issues of sustainability, articulate genealogical connections to ʻāina, and decribe the possibilities for regenerative relationships to ʻāina through materials, form, and content. This essay considers the impact of the 1970s Hawaiian Renaissance as a cultural and political movement that re-centered the relationship between Kānaka and ʻāina, and catalyzed Hawaiʻi’s contemporary art scene with a political dimension that visualized Kanaka ʻŌiwi resurgence.

Making Room for Earth in Hawaiʻi: Sean Connelly’s A Small Area of Land

In 2013, Pacific Islander American artist and architect Sean Connelly formed a geometric sculpture with 32,000 pounds of earthen matter at the now-closed ii Gallery in the Kakaʻako neighborhood of Honolulu. Titled A Small Area of Land (Kakaʻako Earth Room), the work was composed of volcanic soil and coral sand—deemed by Connelly as “two of Hawaiʻi’s most politically charged materials and highly valued commodities”—sourced from various locations on the island of Oʻahu. Connelly allowed his sculpture to slowly erode in the gallery over the course of its installation, a non-gesture toward what might seem to be uncontrollable disintegration. A Small Area of Land adds a divergent dimension to Euro-American art movements, pushing back against the rigidity and firmness of minimalism and the grand impositions of land art that initially inspired him. In doing so, Connelly  expands the notion of “land” beyond a material or merely site-specific interest for artists into something that additionally includes more explicit references to structural systems of dispossession, exploitation, theft, and lasting injustices. Connelly’s work amplifies relationships to land that do not rely on economic value in the extractive, capitalist sense so much as values that link Indigenous onto-epistemologies with ecological flourishing, providing an avenue through which we can think about histories of land, labor, and the increasing disassociation between the two, as well as how material choices are imbricated with personal and political complexity in Hawaiʻi.

T-shirts and Turtles: Art and Environmental Activism on Erub, Torres Strait

North Australia is one of the last remaining safe havens for endangered marine species. For Erub Islanders, sea turtles are both a traditional source of food and an integral part of their belief systems and culture. Between 2005 and 2015, up to ten thousand sea turtles across the globe have been entangled in “ghost-nets,” fishing nets that have been lost, abandoned, or discarded in the ocean. These nets trap marine wildlife invisibly and silently, hence the term “ghost.” Sea turtles are especially vulnerable to entanglement in ghost-nets. Erub Islanders began to gather the nets that washed up on the beaches and were caught in the reefs, often with dead animals ensnared in the webbing. They took the nets apart to see whether they could be used for crafts. They used the multi-coloured strands that run through the centre of the ropes to weave figures of small animals and full-scale figures of sea turtles and other large creatures of the Pacific. Today, ghost-net sculptures are part of a worldwide movement: the artists of Erub work with local and international museums to express their environmental activism by creating powerful art installations that bring awareness to the global destruction of our oceans.

Artists Concern: Visualising Environmental Destruction in Papua New Guinea

This article presents ways in which two contemporary artists in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are dealing with issues of climate change and the destruction of nature in PNG and the Pacific at large through their art. Laben Sakale John and Gazellah Bruder are two well-known PNG artists who visualise their feelings and thoughts about environmental degradation and the impact of climate change in intense and expressive ways. Laben Sakale John addresses tropical storms and Australian bushfires, while Gazellah Bruder is concerned about ocean pollution, deforestation in PNG, and the extinction of wildlife. Both are aware that the lifestyles of Indigenous peoples and their traditional livelihoods are also threatened. Their works of art evoke a sense of loss and sadness but also of urgency, that something effective must be done—by all of us—to combat climate change on a global scale.

Natalie Robertson: Toxic Waters

Natalie Robertson is a Māori photographic and moving image artist who currently lives and works in Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. Robertson, who is originally from Kawerau in the Bay of Plenty, belongs to the Ngāti Porou tribe. She has very strong ties to the land and to her iwi and as a tribe member shares responsibility for the life force of the Waiapu river. Her work explores Māori knowledge, practices and cultural landscapes, and also engages with conflicting settler and Indigenous relationships to land and place. Customary and contemporary mythologies of the land and space are the framework of Robertson’s work, which also draws on paradoxes of economic development and environmental destruction and the effects that these have had not only on the environment, but also on its inhabitants. This paper examines her art practice, in particular, Uncle Tasman: The Trembling Current that Scars the Earth, a three-screen video installation recorded at geothermal sites in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, and her photographic work The Slow Catastrophe of the Waiapu River, which was exhibited for the first time in Le Havre, France, in 2015 for the exhibition Pacifique(S) Contemporain, curated by Caroline Vercoe and Jacqueline Charles-Rault.

Creative Work

Negotiating the Ecology of Place

I find several compelling parallels between the human and plant realms, particularly in relation to place and identity. Refreshing insights, questions, and perspectives have arisen for me in my reflections on the history and ecosystems of Hawaiʻi, my own identity, and my work. I am interested in how we construct and deconstruct individual identities within the context of a larger society. As human beings, we shift, adapt, resist, or embrace the various influences within the social, cultural and natural ecosystems in which we live. We invent and reorganize ourselves continuously as we move through time and space. I associate this journey of finding and fitting the pieces of ourselves together with patchwork — articulating and finding meaning in the patterns, textures, and salvageable pieces of our identities. Like plants, we live in transformation.

I use a variety of natural fibers in my work, including wool, silk, and wauke (Broussonetia papyrifera). While I honor traditions from the past (harvesting and beating bark and hand-felting wool are among the oldest of fiber craft forms), I also experiment with new methods as a way of expressing my own, authentic voice. My current work straddles the lines between craft and fine art, representation and abstraction, and conceptual vocabularies that merge artistic traditions related to my biological origins: African American patchwork quilting and Finnish felting with tapa (bark cloth) and artistic traditions from Hawaiʻi.

Madang Art Maniacs and the COVID-19 Pandemic in Papua New Guinea

Sir Peter Barter, with notes by Edward P. Wolfers, describes the creative and community work of Robert Banasi and the Madang Art Maniacs (MAM) during the COVID-19 pandemic. MAM’s public art production has endeavoured to raise awareness about the pandemic and practices to promote health in Madang, the capital of Madang Province in Papua New Guinea, and in the nearby rural communities.

Duty-Free Paradise

Duty-Free Paradise is a multimedia exhibition and a series of live broadcasted performances that play on the tensions between lived and imagined Hawaiʻi. It explores the contradictions between the perceptions and realities of island life—broadly as a “paradise” constructed by American pop culture, and down to the flora and fauna, underwritten by militarism and biopolitics—through the lens of eco-tourism, around which Hawaiʻi’s economy heavily circulates. Duty-Free Paradise opened coincidentally 15 days after the attempted coup on the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, and four days after the anniversary of the successful coup of 1893 that overthrew Hawaiian sovereignty.


Exhibition Review Nā Māla: Layered Landscapes of Kona Coffee Heritage, curated by Mina Elison. Donkey Mill Art Center, Kona, Hawaiʻi, October 24, 2020 – December 12, 2020.

One such place on Hawaiʻi island where the arts are being pushed into new directions is the Donkey Mill Art Center (DMAC), a community art center founded by the Hōlualoa Foundation for Arts and Culture (HFAC) and located in the town of Hōlualoa, in the ahupuaʻa (a type of Hawaiian land division) of Keauhou, in the moku (district) of North Kona. Although the institution’s name is unassuming, connoting the region’s coffee history and honoring the historic Donkey Mill that serves as the flagship building and campus of the organization, DMAC functions as a vital center of creative production in this part of Hawaiʻi island. Throughout the year, DMAC organizes classes, demonstrations, workshops, presentations, and most importantly for this review, exhibitions that celebrate various art mediums, including but not limited to ceramics, drawing, painting, printmaking, mixed media, fiber arts, metal works, photography, and Hawaiian arts. In 2020, Nā Māla: Layered Landscapes of Kona Coffee Heritage, was one of DMAC’s in-house exhibits, organized by Communications Director and Curator Mina Elison.

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