Category Archives: Pacific

Nicholas Mangan–recreate the past for the future

Installation shot from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Installation shot from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Nicholas Mangan is a Melbourne artist with a strong interest in the material histories of the Pacific. His previous show at Sutton Gallery Nauru, Notes from a Cretaceous World concerned the history of phosphate mining in the remote Pacific island, which had become a processing centre for asylum seekers (see article). His recent show, Progress in Action, concerns struggle in 1988 by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army to close the Panguna Copper mine which was polluting their island.

Copper plate from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Copper plate from Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Mangan’s strategy is to re-stage the BRA’s attempts to cope with the blockage of food and energy by developing new modes of self-sufficiency. Locals took to the ubiquitous coconut as a resource to sustain their existence (as told in the film Coconut Revolution). Mangan learned how to extract oil from the coconut which could then be refined as a fuel to power a generator. This energy was then used to project a film documentary montage from the time. Alongside the installation and performance were copper plates, reproducing publications such as the Bougainville Copper annual report.

Mangan’s work follows that of others who seek to re-enact past struggles, such as Tom Nicholson. What’s particularly interesting here is the contemporary relevance of the energy system that he re-creates, showing the way in which the necessity of deprivation can lead to the invention of renewable energies. As Mangan says,

Beyond the politics or history for me it always comes back to the core materials that are formed or sculpted by an ideological determination, like copper being used for capitalist extraction or the coconuts being used as the agency for an eco-revolution.

In Australia, this has particular meaning as a challenge to the way neighbouring Melanesian region can be dismissed as an ‘arc of instability’. It ranks alongside the television series Straits as a way of imaginatively connecting the continent to the oceanic web in which it is embedded.

Installation shot of documentary projection in Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Installation shot of documentary projection in Nicholas Mangan 'Progress in Action'

Mangan’s work also opens up a particularly southern strategy for art making, in revealing the means of production. Exposing the supply chain works against the commodification of art by revealing the process that lies behind the product. It sociology it demonstrates the kind of creative potential in the ecological knowledge outlined by Boaventura de Sousa Santos.

Of course, it could go further. The exhibition itself is lacking a relational dimension. There is no active role played by people in Bougainville today. If only Mangan had the opportunity to visit Bougainville himself, and find ways in which they might like to become actively involved in his work.

Fortunately, the project is far from over. Mangan is in the process of shipping the installation to Brazil, where it will feature in the Mercosul Biennial at Porto Alegre. According to the curatorial statement, the biennial

gathers works together that explore different kinds of atmospheric disturbances propelling travel and social displacement, technological advancement and world development, vertical expansions in space, and transversal explorations through time.

This seems a perfect fit for Mangan and an important opportunity to have an Australian artist represented in this key South American event.

PNG Symposium on Traditional Knowledge

SAEM MAJNEP MEMORIAL SYMPOSIUM ON TRADITIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL KNOWLEDGE

To be held at the University of Goroka, 31 October – 2 November 2012

CALL FOR EXPRESSIONS OF INTEREST

Ian Saem Majnep was a member of the Kalam tribe from the Kaironk Valley in Madang Province who was born around 1948. He worked closely with the late Ralph Bulmer, the Foundation Professor of Anthropology at the University of PNG, and also with Andrew Pawley, now Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University, on the documentation of the Kalam language and traditional environmental knowledge. Saem’s work on the documentation of traditional Kalam knowledge was recognized through the award of an honorary doctorate by the University of PNG in 1989. The Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium (‘the Symposium’) is named in honour one of PNG’s first internationally recognized indigenous knowledge experts, who sadly passed away in 2007. The basic aim of the Symposium is to enhance the capacity of universities in PNG to train students in the appreciation and documentation of traditional environmental knowledge, engage them in deeper processes of interaction with the local holders of such knowledge, and involve them in wider processes of biocultural education, expression, and revitalization.

Background

Indigenous knowledge holders are increasingly demanding recognition for their practices without that recognition undermining the position of their knowledge as a socially embedded process. Recognition of Intellectual Property Rights has proved to be an inadequate route to deal with this issue. Whatever ‘indigenous knowledge’ was and is, it is also undergoing transformation in the contemporary world – it does not exist in a vacuum, but is embedded in the changing relationships internal to indigenous communities, and between members of these communities and external interest groups. The development of new models for the documentation and dissemination of such knowledge must therefore be based on recognition of at least three issues:

  1. The growing awareness of external threats to the reproduction of indigenous knowledge and practices, offset by a growing awareness in indigenous communities of the importance of preserving these things for future generations.
  2. The desire of indigenous peoples to present themselves to the outside world as knowledge holders and to gain recognition of their stewardship of lands and environments based on relations of mutual constitution rather than alienable possession.
  3. The opportunities presented by new technologies for recording and transmitting indigenous knowledge and practices in digitally mediated forms.

There is growing evidence that most of the students now entering universities in PNG come from urban family backgrounds, have little experience of rural village life, and are largely unfamiliar with traditional environmental or ecological knowledge (TEK). There is already some provision for the design and delivery of courses relating to TEK in the PNG university system, but much more could be done to improve the resources available for the teaching of such courses. Although some university graduates find employment in non-government or community-level organizations that have some interest in the documentation or revaluation of TEK, they have often received very little in the way of relevant training while at university. The same is true of the vast majority of graduates who find employment in organizations that have no such interest. As the years go by, an increasing proportion of the individuals who count as members of the national elite are losing all connection with the forms of knowledge possessed by village-level experts who commonly have very little in the way of formal education. Some provision is already made for the teaching of TEK in PNG’s secondary school curriculum, but there is again a notable shortage of suitable curriculum materials. The University of Goroka can play a key role in helping to fill this gap because of its role in training and current and future secondary school teachers.

Outcomes of the Symposium

We expect the short-term outcomes of the Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium to include:

  1. A review of what has so far been achieved in the documentation and dissemination of TEK in and from PNG, with particular focus on partnerships between scientific and local experts, and on the relationship between research and education.
  2. A review of new technologies for documentation and dissemination of TEK at local, national and international scales, with appropriate recognition of issues involving intellectual property rights.
  3. An outline for the first edition of a textbook or manual to be used in training tertiary students (including secondary school teachers) in practical techniques for the documentation and dissemination of TEK.
  4. Plans for development of additional funding proposals for development of institutional capacity and resources to undertake such documentation and dissemination through the formal education system in PNG.
  5. Plans to connect this type of activity with the integration of TEK into local-level land use and resource management systems in PNG.

Longer term plans to build institutional capacity to document and disseminate TEK in PNG will be based on these short-term outcomes. All participants will be asked to formally approve the use of their contributions to the Symposium in any future publication or in any document used for teaching purposes.

Organisation of the Symposium

Key participants in the Symposium will include:

  • Scientific and local experts who have been involved in the documentation of TEK in PNG through partnerships of the kind pioneered by Ralph Bulmer and Saem Majnep;
  • Individuals with particular expertise and experience in teaching university students about TEK in PNG;
  • Individuals with particular expertise and experience in developing the use of new technologies for the documentation and dissemination of TEK; and
  • People with a professional interest in the potential use of TEK as a means to promote the conservation of biological diversity or the management of local ecosystems in PNG.

The Symposium organisers are planning to invite approximately 30 participants from outside Goroka, including 10 local experts in TEK from Eastern Highlands and surrounding provinces with road connections to Goroka. In addition, we plan to invite another 20 participants from Goroka itself, including UOG staff and staff of partner organisations based in Goroka.

The Symposium will be advertised in PNG’s national newspapers, as well as by means of posters in UOG, in order to boost attendance by interested members of the public (including schoolteachers) from Goroka and surrounding areas, as well as by interested staff and students of UOG (including school-teachers taking in-service courses). Part if not all of the Symposium proceedings will be conducted in Tok Pisin in order to facilitate the participation of local indigenous knowledge experts who do not speak English.

A Symposium Steering Committee (SSC) has already been established at UOG. The SSC is responsible for the identification of individuals to be invited to the Symposium and for sending out the invitations, but is receiving support and advice from partner organisations in the identification of individuals to be invited to the Symposium from outside Goroka.

Expressions of Interest

If you would like to be funded to participate in the Symposium, please send a short (maximum 200-word abstract) of the topic on which you would like to speak and an even shorter (maximum 100-word) note about your past and current interest in the documentation and dissemination of TEK in PNG to:

If you are able to fund your own travel to Goroka and would like to participate as an observer or discussant, please just send a short note about your past and current interest in the documentation and dissemination of traditional environmental knowledge in PNG.

A Symposium program will be developed when the list of likely expert participants has been established and they have indicated the topics on which they would like to speak.

We aim to have a draft program ready for circulation before the end of September, so would like to receive expressions of interest by Friday 21 September at the latest.

Heading South: a meditation on the ‘ruins’ of the South Project

This is paper by Pamela Zeplin was presented in the panel ‘Cultural production: Where to put baskets in an art gallery? ‘The place of traditional cultures in art history’, which was part of Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South, a colloquium organised by SAVAH under the aegis of the Comité International d’Histoire de l’Art (CIHA), University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 12 – 15 January 2011

Abstract

Geographically and historically situated ‘south of the west’, Australian art institutions are yet to fully embrace Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures of the global south, despite recent incursions into the Asia-Pacific region. Notwithstanding claims to cultural inclusivity, Melbourne’s 2008 CIHA Congress, for example, barely registered the presence of Diasporic African, Pacific Island and Latin American communities dwelling in this island continent. It was as if the South Project, another significant local initiative with international cross-cultural reach, had slipped below CIHA’s Eurocentric horizon. With a visionary five year program interrogating conceptual and geo-political understandings of ‘south’, The South Project was last sighted somewhere between Yogyakarta and Noumea, although it is rumoured to be still in existence. This ambitious endeavour was inevitably doomed by idealism as it journeyed between Santiago and Soweto, Melbourne, Wellington and Yogyakarta with its ‘cargo’ of lateral connections between art and craft communities, exhibitions, workshops, residencies and gatherings. Surprisingly, these peripatetic events attracted little critical attention, despite initiating a complex web of weird and wonderful events and relationships. The paper critically examines this program as a possible alternative to biennale models of ‘exchange’ and ruminates on the South Project’s remains.

Biography

Dr Pamela Zeplin is a writer and artist based in Adelaide, where she is Portfolio Leader of Postgraduate Research Education (Art, Architecture & Design) at the University of South Australia. With a long-standing research focus in regional cultures in the Asia-Pacific and southern hemisphere, Pamela regularly publishes and actively participates in national and international events throughout the region. In 2005 and 2006 she delivered plenary addresses at South Project gatherings in Wellington and Santiago. With Dr. Paul Sharrad in 2009, Pamela convened a funded national workshop, The Big Island: Promoting Contemporary Pacific Art and Craft in Australia at the University of Wollongong, resulting in Art Monthly Australia’s landmark ‘OzPacifica’ edition, specifically devoted to Australian Pacific art. In 2008 Pamela received a national Distinguished Researcher Award from the Australian Council of University Art and Design Schools.


First of all, I’d like to acknowledge the Indigenous owners of this land upon and thank the SAVAH team for such a welcoming and stimulating environment.

Where to put baskets in an art gallery?

Installation, Pacific Storms, 2009

Installation, Pacific Storms, 2009

Before I ruminate on the ruins – or otherwise – of The South Project, let’s begin with baskets since my paper has migrated to this panel, Where to put baskets in an art gallery?’ from the now abandoned panel ‘Interrogating the Global South ‘. During this process, the following discussion become a more personalised and ‘basketised’ narrative – that has loosened a few strands during the process.

This photograph shows Pacific Storms, a ground breaking 2009 exhibition in Australia of work by artists from the Pacific-Oceania neighbourhood and those of Pacific heritage resident in the world’s largest continental island, Australia. You will notice the baskets and also numerous other weavings festooning Bundaberg Regional Art Gallery in northern Queensland alongside contemporary art; photographs, videos, paintings, and poetry texts.

Although no longer fresh and lush, these fibre textiles remain as more than dehydrated relics of performative opening ceremonies; they represent lingering testimony to creative expression that can be participatory, cross-disciplinary and multi-dimensional in nature – including, notably, children’s furniture and programs actively inviting art and play.

So, you might wonder, what is so groundbreaking among the textiles here? Firstly, Pacific Storms represented a rare exhibition of contemporary Oceanic – and predominantly ‘Melanesian’ – art in this country, even though 400,000 of its population (or2%) are of Pacific Islander heritage.

Children’s program, Pacific Storms, 2009

Children’s program, Pacific Storms, 2009

Secondly, this landmark exhibition took place not in a major institution, like Queensland Art Gallery, renowned for the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art but in a regional gallery in rural northern Queensland. Thirdly, baskets are not generally encountered in Australia’s sharp and shiny art world unless they form part of an Indigenous – generally Australian Indigenous –exhibition. So there’s something significant happening here – something about generosity, conviviality, hospitality, inclusiveness. Perhaps, even ‘relational aesthetics’, although this recently ‘discovered’ art ‘fashion’ features less as a rationale for curator of Pacific Storms’ Papua New Guinean-Australian, Joycelin Leahy, than ‘the Pacific way’ things are done in this part of the global south. Ironically, few Australians, including art cognoscenti, have had access to these indigenous and ‘southern’ ways of knowing – and presenting – given our continued reverence for northerly trans-Atlantic models of knowledge production.

In fact, the Pacific region has long been considered Australia’s ‘backyard’ and in political, economic and cultural terms, a place of tacky tourism – and/or tornadoes and trouble. And, until 2007 with the Rudd Labor Government’s revised regional foreign policy, the Oceanic/Pacific region was collectively regarded by Australian governments post 1975 as a ‘basket case’.

CIHA 32nd Congress

This near invisibility of Pacific and southern hemisphere art and culture still characterises major art events, including the prestigious ‘parent’ body of this Colloquium, CIHA International Committee of the History of Art, although yesterday’s comments by CIHA committee members addresses gave us cause for hope. CIHA’s so-called ‘ground-breaking’ 2008 32nd Congress in Melbourne, Crossing Cultures: Congress, Conflict, Migration and Convergence aimed to ‘to make people of different nationalities engage in debate’ and was declared by convenor (and now CIHA President), Professor Jaynie Anderson as the ’first meeting of an international congress of the history of art in the southern hemisphere [to] epitomiz[e] the expansion of the field throughout the globe’[1].

Whether or not this claim can be validated, this ‘Art History Olympics’ certainly made an impact on Australian art historians, attracting almost 700 registrations from 50 countries[2]. With one exception[3], however, among 226 presentations, including 42% of papers from Australia and 10% (22) from ‘other’ Southern Hemisphere countries[4], the only ‘Pacific’ featured was in two presentations of New Zealand’s – not Australia’s – urban ‘Pasifika’. Moreover, only four Australian Indigenous speakers presented amongst 74 Australian papers, although many of these concerned issues of indigeneity. There were two speakers from ‘Africa’ (South Africa and Cameroon), a country not, however, considered an ‘appropriate’ location for the next full CIHA Congress (to be held in Nuremburg in 2012). This decision catalysed the staging of the Johannesburg colloquium[5], which was endorsed by CIHA following the Melbourne event, but not financially assisted by the international ‘parent’ body[6].

Astonishingly, the Melbourne-based South Project’s intensive four year dialogue across the Southern Hemisphere did not appear on the Melbourne Congress’ agenda[7], where neither baskets nor wider craft discourses were apparent. For all CIHA’s cross-cultural claims, at $AUD660 (R4454) many attendees expressed disappointment at the congress’ elitist and inhospitable environment[8]. Eurocentrism dies hard, it seems, even in the highest echelons of well-intentioned art history.

South Project & ‘The Basket’

The South Project, on the other hand, by 2008 had demonstrated over five years that art gatherings – even conferences- can be about more than a schedule of topics. Although Pacific Storms was not part of The South Project, it might well have been; its spirit embodied much of what this enduring Melbourne-based endeavour successfully achieved. And baskets and weavings provide appropriate metaphors for both Pacific Storms and The South Project; traditionally crafted within social and performative story-telling situations, baskets are containers with capacity for plenitude, exchange and countless uses. Woven from diverse materials and designs, baskets are strong, porous and receptive and nothing if not portable. Importantly, like the South Project, they are not intended to last forever.

A combination of Indigenous and non-Indigenous ‘basket cultures’ as well as contemporary art informed by cross-cultural social and political engagement, provided the architectural structure of The South Project. This was envisioned in and for the most culturally conscious of Australian cities – Melbourne. By 2003 this city was, ironically, ‘sliding off the international art map’[9] without an ongoing biennale or triennial event. The South Project intended to fill this void but in a radically lateral rather than vertical direction so as to explore the possibilities offered by south-south transactions. In an Australian art climate unsympathetic to localism or craft, this project challenged and enlarged understandings of what ‘south’ could signify within and beyond its Eurocentric contexts. ‘South’ was thus situated by this new organisation as much as ‘a question as a location’, where attitude’ mattered as much as ‘latitude’[10] .

A unique, highly ambitious, and visionary program, The South Project was inaugurated in 2004 by Kevin Murray with manager, Magdalena Moreno under the auspices of the Craft Victoria organisation. It was carefully developed through personal professional networks cultivated over time[11]. This enterprise encompassed a vast practitioner-based program comprising Indigenous and non-Indigenous craftspersons, artists, writers, curators, scholars, and social activists, thickly intertwining a continuous web of exchanges, exhibitions, residencies, symposia, workshops and publications across different places and times in – and beyond – the Antipodes. Significantly, until 2009 a highly developed children’s program, Southkids provided an essential and ongoing component of South Project’s broader endeavour, enabling children across the Southern Hemisphere to work with professional visual arts and craftspersons[12]. With the exception of a few Australian state art galleries (namely Queensland Art Gallery), the acknowledgement of children as an integral part of the project was remarkable at this time.

South 1 Gathering

Launched in Melbourne in 2004 with miniscule staff resources and a proposed five year lifespan, The South Project stimulated conversations between artists and communities of the south whether defined by hemisphere or by concept. These dialogues might be visual, verbal, tactile or textual, embracing different shapes, textures and tones. The inaugural gathering with hundreds of delegates was astounding.

In a conventional auditorium with workshop spaces, a dazzling diversity of Indigenous and non-Indigenous ‘southerners’ from fourteen countries came together to re-imagine possibilities for weaving previously un-dreamed of connections. ‘South 1’, in Susan Cochrane’s words, ‘encouraged all kinds of responses: philosophical and whimsical, creative and conceptual, contesting and renewing ideas, in the first gathering of its kind’[13]. Presentations ranged from Aboriginal Australian weavers and writers and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) artists lamenting their lost language, to Argentinian activists witnessing for the politically ‘disappeared’, community architects from South Africa and Antarctic voyagers. Taking its cue from Mbulelo Mzamane’s inspiring keynote address[14], an extraordinary spirit of ‘ubuntu’ suffused the event. This atmosphere transformed a conference into an intensely moving and uplifting experience where delegates (even art historians!) openly wept and embraced during the closing ceremony; for those attending it felt like re-uniting with family.

Southern journeys

While The South Project continued to catalyse numerous strands of diverse and intersecting activity, by 2005 its annual gatherings began literally weaving their way across southern latitudes[15]. Wellington (New Zealand) hosted the first gathering outside Australia (administered by the Melbourne South Project team collaborating with local hosts). From this South Western Pacific location, the next South Project travelled to the South Eastern Pacific, to Santiago (Chile) in 2006, and in 2007 to Soweto/Johannesburg, this last event organised locally by Clifford Charles and team, with support from Melbourne staff.

Southkids Workshop, Belle Primary School, Orlando West, Soweto, October 2007

Southkids Workshop, Belle Primary School, Orlando West, Soweto, October 2007

For me, the highlight of this event was the Southkids workshop at Belle Primary School in Orlando West, Soweto, particularly the way these kids came back for more, ‘crashing’ South Project’s adult craft workshops at Uncle Tom’s Community Centre the next day. Such an intrusion by children would be unthinkable in my country. At the kids’ workshop I met Muelo Lebenya, an artist volunteer working at the school who constructed ‘baskets’ from recycled vinyl LP records. I returned to the school four days before this Colloquium to find it dramatically expanded and now renamed Mbuyisa Makhubu Primary School, after the young man who was photographed holding Hector Pieterson, the twelve year old school child martyred during the 1976 Soweto Uprising[16].

Following this South Project imbizo, the Melbourne-based organisation was re-structured under Interim Director, Magdalena Moreno and a new board since Murray’s resignation as Director of Craft Victoria in early 2008. Murray continued involvement with South Project activities, including the 2008 Johannesburg/Soweto Imbizo. Nevertheless, the organisation separated from its former craft base at Craft Victoria via an ‘exit strategy’ as part of a new corporate makeover. Up to this point, a new prospectus recorded that between 2006 and 2007 alone, 84 events had attracted audiences of 33,000 in addition to 227,000 website visits[17].

Time does not permit a detailed analytical or theoretical account of South Project’s major gatherings, its related programs, myriad partner organisations and participants – let alone its lively internal politics. Suffice to say this organisation’s multiple parameters and ever-expanding connections had become a complex weave of intersecting and pulsating nodes between people, ideas and objects around the globe, and from many reports, anecdotes and statistics, a generative and useful platform for practitioner exchange.

Instead of South Project’s grand finale originally planned for 2008, a focus group style of symposium in Melbourne[18] was assembled where d a Yogyakarta Gathering was proposed for 2009, ‘the intention of [which was] above all COLLABORATIVE, RECIPROCAL AND OF ACTIVATION’[19]. This was to be followed by a grand triennial South Festival for 2010, ’focus[ing] on Melbourne as a cultural hub’, after which would be a Pacific gathering in francophone New Caledonia in 2011 and from thence to Rio de Janeiro in 2012. This ambitiously expanded schedule was, however, not to be, despite being set out in a glossy prospectus polished with corporate language describing KPI deliverables, ‘cultural capital brand[ing]’ and an impressive ‘investment logic map’[20]. Significantly, the word craft seldom appeared in the document and, apart from two images of weavers, baskets were not to be seen. Metaphorically speaking, The South Project ‘basket’ of multiple dimensions had been stitched up and hermetically sealed – economically, politically and culturally.

Dylan Martorell et al. Documentation, final night performance, Room Mate, Yogyakarta, 2009.

Dylan Martorell et al. Documentation, final night performance, Room Mate, Yogyakarta, 2009.

Notwithstanding South Project’s elaborate new strategic plan, the organisation was, surprisingly, soon de-funded by major institutional sponsors and the 2009 gathering in Yogyakarta (Indonesia) proceeded with almost no financial support[21]. What went wrong? The World Financial Crisis? Too many Festivals? Too much Melbourne focus? Not enough Pacific focus? More likely, the following factors played a role in the project’s demise: a lack of critical review coverage by external arts writers and an efficient but extraordinarily demanding administrative structure that was constantly required to be on the move between Melbourne and ‘field’ locations across the South. A call for donations went out across the networks in 2009. But not all was lost; such was the loyalty engendered by The South Project that most Yogyakarta-bound artists self-funded their participation, unlike other waged participants/curators long associated with the South Project who withdrew. As Zara Stanhope has noted: I think people are hungry to get out and experience those other cultures…And artists do it so well. They go off and live on the smell of an oily rag to have those experiences”.[22] Despite – or because of – a severe paucity of resources, a down-to-earth exchange took place in Yogyakarta. Here, local Indonesian artists politely but firmly challenged the privileged cultural naïveté of a number of [inappropriately selected] emerging artists, predominantly from Melbourne, whose steep learning curves offered valuable opportunities to learn about ‘real’ relational aesthetics away from the theorised and insulated precincts of familiar urban art spaces at home. The event became a grass roots encounter on concrete floors, grass and cyberspace in a city where craft plays a significant role in contemporary art and life. Ironically, baskets as well as designer T-shirts were for sale in the main exhibiting venue, Kedai Kebun contemporary art space, which epitomises Indonesian artists’ necessary capacity for resourcefulness.

Four days of four hour long improvised performance culminating in Kraton tea ceremony complete with furniture music/hand made instruments, live call to prayer, crickets. Frogs, bejak, medicinal root vegetables, and sugar-powered gong sculpture, various field recordings from bali and Jogjakarta, aquarium equipment, found materials, etc. ‘ [sic].

Yogyakarta exchanges continued via a small post-event exhibition and residencies in Melbourne[23], while independent collaborative projects initiated in Yogya have maintained momentum, even without external funding. In Australia, this is unusual in assisted cross-cultural projects.

Re-considering ruins

On ruins one can begin to build. Anyhow, looking out from ruins one clearly sees; there are no obstructing walls’. (Dame Rose Macaulay)[24]

In terms of its past ambitious range and scale of activities, The South Project may now appear as ‘ruins’ but it continues to facilitate south-south and multicultural projects, all be they in reduced capacity through online networks linked with, for a time, a small alternative gallery in a Melbourne shopping mall[25]. In this way, contemporary visual artists rather than craft practitioners have continued to characterise the program’s curatorial focus, which, it may be argued, has contributed to the organisations’ diminished social texture and following.

I had intended to lament the unfortunate demise of this remarkable phenomenon known as The South Project. It has been an important part of my life since 2004 but after six years I realise I probably need to get over it and continue researching in and of the south – including the Australian Pacific – in different ways. In any case, strong links have been established through various South Project activities between many people and these continue to be maintained – as the Yogyakarta experience demonstrated, outside the structures of a facilitating organisation. It is remarkable, nevertheless, that such a nimble and dynamic venture could continue to be relevant and exciting over such a long period of time. At this event in Johannesburg and elsewhere I am reminded, in meeting up with previous South Project participants, of how those initial professional and personal connections can and do remain engaged through the South Project ‘Diaspora’ – with or without a capital G Gathering.

Nathalie Luis, Inside Taman Sari ruins, Yogyakarta. 2008.

Nathalie Luis, Inside Taman Sari ruins, Yogyakarta. 2008.

Thus it’s appropriate to conclude with this 2008 image of Taman Sari (Water Palace) ruins in Yogyakarta following one of a number of recent major earthquakes, A year after this photograph was taken Yogyakarta was the site of The South Project’s final gathering ‘abroad’. Here and in previous gatherings this organisation provided remarkable models for consideration of what Domenico de Clario refers to as ‘southness’: ‘It follows’, he suggests, ‘ that we must turn our attention to the quality of what constitutes our immediate reality, and love it more and better.’[26] Significantly, the photographer of this image has angled the shot skywards, looking upwards and beyond the ruins.

If we consider statistics alone, it’s possible that hundreds of thousands of people have been made aware of their ‘immediate reality’, directly or virtually, through The South Project[27]. Finally, and of more consequence than these impressive statistics is the fact that legions of Southkids across the southern hemisphere can now look up into southern skies and, hopefully, more confidently identify their own place in the global south – where ideas, things and events (including conferences) can be done differently – and sometimes better than those imposed from above.

The vital point for identity…is that the antipodes is not a place so much as it is a relation, one not of our own choosing but one which also enables us.”

(Peter Beilharz, 1997)


Notes

[1] ‘The history of the International Committee of the History of Art suggests what many people throughout the world have recognized: art and the discourses around it are increasingly global. Art and its history are not only created, but discussed in one form or another on all the inhabited continents of the earth. Globalism has thus also assumed an art historical aspect: indeed it has been described as art history’s most pressing issue. But how can global issues in art history take form in theory or practice? What are the possibilities for a world art history?’. CIHA International Committee of the History of Art 32nd Congress: Crossing Cultures: Congress, Conflict: Migration: Convergence, The University of Melbourne, January 13-18 2008. Online: Accessed 6 January 2011. http://www.cihamelbourne2008.com.au/

[2] ‘Melbourne’s passion fills the house at ‘Art History Olympics’, The University of Melbourne Voice, Vol 2, No 1, February 2008. http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/news/4892/

[3] Childs, Elizabeth, ‘Exchange: Gifting, identity and writing history in fin-de-siecle Tahiti’, paper presented at CIHA 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art, The University of Melbourne, 13-18 January 2008.

[4] Of the papers by Australian-based presenters, 33% were from The University of Melbourne, CIHA’s host institution.

[5] ‘First call for papers: Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South’, Southern Perspectives, Online: Accessed December 15 2010. http://www.southernperspectives.net/conference/other-views-art-history-in-south-africa-and-the-global-south-call-for-papers

“CIHA has recently been addressing concerns about the unequal distribution of resources around the globe and challenges from post-colonial societies to the older methods and concepts of western art history. At the CIHA congress in Melbourne in January 2008, one of the key issues for discussion was the extent to which we need to re-think the discipline of the history of art “in order to establish cross-cultural dimensions as fundamental to its scope, method and vision”. SAVAH proposes continuing these discussions in the colloquium ‘Other Views: Art History in (South) Africa and the Global South’ to be held at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in January, 2011. A principal focus of the discussions, with particular reference to South Africa, will be how the study of art from the African continent is often impeded by a totalising notion of an undifferentiated ‘Africa’. This belies the histories, political trajectories and regional differences of its many communities, nations and states… We do not envision covering all aspects and areas of Africa and the Global South, but we shall use the Global South construct as a framework to focus on Africa and in particular South Africa. The aim is to complicate the history of art and the relationship between histories in the Global South and the ‘north’ or ‘west’”.

[6] Conversations with SAVAH president Dr Federico Freschi and Professor Anitra Nettleton, Johannesburg, January 14 2011. In obtaining CIHA affiliation, the small SAVAH organisation funded and/or facilitated accommodation and business class airfares for a number of visits to Johannesburg by members of the CIHA Committee executive, including attendance by these speakers at the SAVAH event in January 2011.

[7] The South Project elicited only passing criticism, as ‘diminish[ing] the artistic culture of Asia’. Marravillas, Francis, ‘Art Histories at the crossroads: “Asian” art in “Australia”’, presentation at CIHA 32nd Congress of the International Committee of the History of Art, University of Melbourne, 13-18 January 2008.

[8] While (optional) receptions at Government House and the National Gallery of Victoria were lavish, the CIHA congress $AUD660 conference fee included no lunch or refreshments, except for inadequate tea/coffee facilities for long lines of patient delegates.

‘Delegate Welcome Packs’ supplied an impressive if cumbersome 269 page volume of presenters’ abstracts and biographies but no schedule summary with which to navigate up to ten parallel sessions per day. Information about (many) changes to the schedule were unavailable, except online, and there was much discussion about lack of courtesy and hospitality by the professional conference organisers.

[9] ‘With Australia’s second city “sliding off the international art map”, [Peter Hil] proposed that it was time to invent an event where “so-called rival cities in the region ” could “work together inclusively rather than facing off at each other as if at a sporting match”. This would, he suggested, “fully integrate the region within the global art world”’. Fuller, Peter, in Hill, Peter.( 2006), cited in Zeplin, Pamela, Horizontal Relations: The South Project goes to Santiago’, ‘Publications’, The South Project. Online: Accessed 2 January 2011. http://www.southproject.net/south/Pam_Zeplin_Horizontal_Relations.html

[10] Rankin, E, ‘South 1: Common Ground’, The South Project, Online, Accessed 11 May 2006. http://www.southproject.org/texts/rankin.htm

[11] For more details about the 2007 South Project’s aims and objectives, see The South Project. Online: http://www.southproject.net/south/Johannesburg2007_files/Johannesburg%20Program_1.pdf

Accessed 2 January 2011. ‘ The South Project is the major international arts project that brings together the distinct voices of the southern hemisphere through south-south dialogue and cross-cultural exchange. Making its platform in the south, it supports contemporary dynamic cultural practice and promotes the experience and understanding of visual culture for global audiences. We are by nature a lateral organisation in our structure and philosophy: consultation is essential. We are dedicated to ongoing rigorous investigation of contemporary cultural life that challenges & inspires audiences & the art community…’.

[12] South Kids, ‘…students had worked with nine international artists who had originated from countries from Chile, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea, Indonesia, Mauritius, Maldives,Fiji, New Zealand and of course Australia. Some of the workshops over the three years included learning skills in the areas of puppetry and mask making, jewellery design, stencil printing, weaving, carving, sculptural construction, performance and curatorship, painting and drawing. South Kids have been very fortunate to have the opportunity of working with such a diverse group of people and to be able to experience the one on one contact with each artist’.

[13] Cochrane, Susan, ‘Towards Ubuntu: The Way of the South’, Artlink, Vol 24 no 4, 2004.

[14]…abantu (Bantu languages) we call ubuntu –the sum total of humanising values as the First Nations People of the South understand them…It rejects the regressive and takes due cognizance of progressive strains in all cultures that it harnesses, and teaches…[Ubuntu] eschews chauvinism and cultural imperialism – the insistence by a group that their ways of doing things are superior beyond compare – as well as narcissism and ethnocentrism – the incapacity to look beyond Self. Ubuntu humbles and teaches…a fitting and uplifting philosophy on which to predicate a movement of re-humanisation.’ Mzamane, Mbulelo Vizikhungo, ‘Of Minks and Men’, ‘Beyond Mythification: Constituting a Southern Identity’, Conference Paper from South 1: The Gathering, The University of Melbourne, 1-4 July 2004, p. 7. The South Project. Online: Accessed 11 May 2006. http://w.w.w.southproject.org/texts/mbulelo.htm

[15] South 1 Melbourne: The Gathering – A New Conversation, July 2004; Wellington Gathering: Between Earth and Sky – Ways of Making a Place in a Placeless World, Wellington, 20-12 October 2005; Crossing Horizons: Context and Community in the South, Santiago (and Valpariso), September 2006; South-South Imbizo, Johannesburg and Soweto, October 2007.

[16] For further details, see ‘Hector Pieterson’, Accessed December 13 2010. http://www.soweto.co.za/html/p_hector.htm

[17] Moreno, M, ‘History of the South Project’, The South Project: A new international arts voice (prospectus), The South Project, Melbourne, 2007? (n.d.), pp. 15,17.

[18] Why Gather?, Elisabeth Murdoch Theatre, The University of Melbourne, 19—20 July , 2008.

[19]’… Delivered through a series of exhibitions, actions, performances, workshops and collaborations, most of which will take in the public domain, the Yogyakarta Gathering in 2009 will be the first time that the South Project has travelled to Asia. Although a select group of Indonesian artists has already participated in South Project activities (such as Heri Dono, Titarubi, Jumaadi, Wulan Dirgantoro, and Dian Fatwa) the South Project has a growing network of potential support, such as the Indonesian Contemporary Art Network amongst others. The South Project also welcomes collaborations from other regions in the South to participate in Yogyakarta 2009. The intention of the Yogyakarta Gathering is above all COLLABORATIVE, RECIPROCAL AND OF ACTIVATION…’. ‘2009 South Project Yogyakarta Expression of Interest’, The South Project, 2008. Online: Accessed December 13 2010. www.southproject.net/south/Yogyakarta2009…/Yogyakarta_October_Brief_ 2008.pdf

[20] Moreno, M, p. 12.

[21] Perjumpaan Selatan-Selatan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 21 to 25 October 2009

[22] Stanhope, Z, in Andrew Stephens, A,A new world order’, The Age Entertainment, July 5 2008, p. 2.

[23] ‘Tuesday, December 15, 2009 until Sunday, December 20, 2009…Melbourne Reflection Post Yogyakarta South Gathering 2009 The South Project presents in Melbourne a reflection on the 5th International South Gathering in Yogyakarta Indonesia in October 2009 – a collaborative model of engagement bringing together arts projects from Melbourne, Perth, Santiago and Yogyakarta. Opening includes artist talks’. ‘South Project’, Bus Projects, 2009. Online: Accessed December 13 2010. http://www.busprojects.com.au/2009/12/09/south-project/

[24] ‘Dame Rose Macaulay’ [n.d.]. Wise Wisdom on Demand. Online: Accessed December 15 2010. http://www.iwise.com/m2ORX

[25] 2010 South Project Inc., Melbourne 2010: How Can a Network….?, Exhibition, 22 November 2010 – 5 December 2010. 2010 ‘Each concept is an imaginative response to the question of ways of activating people and places by means of a network. Some were planned as hypotheses only, others evolved to works in process, and a number fully intended to be realised by the artist either for this exhibition of ideas or at a future time. All were originated by artists in diverse locations to be seen in Melbourne for this South Project event’.

[26] De Clario, Domenico, ‘South remarks Sunday 20 October 2007’, Unpublished essay, email correspondence, 2007.

[27] Moreno, M., p. 12.

Tribal Pacific indigenous responses to development, education and schooling

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Rural & Remote Schools In Udu, Fiji

Vanua, Indigenous Knowledge, Development and Professional Support for Teachers & Education

Nabobo-Baba, U. et.al. (2012).Fiji: University of the South Pacific-FALE & Native Academy Publishers. Four Parts, 412 pages. $40.00USD. (Paperback).ISBN: 978-982-01-0886-8.

[Unaisi Nabobo-Baba; Sereima Naisilisili; Samu Bogitini; Tupeni Lebaivalu Baba With Govinda Lingam]

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The University of the South Pacific (USP), one of two regionally owned universities in the world-the other being the University of West Indies serves its 12 member Pacific Island countries where much of the population live in rural, remote and isolated islands. These “unseen” populace and their realities are necessary to our discourses and debates in education and development. The ideas and philosophies of their ways of life, their struggles, their responses to development needs of the school and of teaching as a profession, must be researched and should constitute an important agenda of research. The Academy in this case the USP must continue to find ways to attend to rural students, schools, teachers and communities in creative ways, The challenges of a regional institution like USP to do so and do so effectively will continue to pose challenges – challenges that are decades old as well as those that are as old as the countries themselves.

In the vanua (tribe) context, the regional university evidently like the government that pays the teachers and provides the school curriculum must work with and acknowledge vanua processes. Community processes like the vanua processes as in the case of Udu schools mediate how schools, teachers carry out their business. An understanding of the context of the community especially its decision making processes and economic power bases may enhance the academy in its attempt to “reach” rural teachers. This is also true of Government in its attempt to service rural schools and their communities given that local governance processes in Fiji’s 20 year history of military coups, as well as globalisation, pose new possibilities and challenges to teachers and schools in rural and remote places. Advances in ICT is proving to be a solution but can also create further digital divide if care is not taken to address not exacerbate existing disparities among the rich and poor within regions of a country like Fiji and other Pacific islands countries. Begs the question – Must a university heavily subsidise its services in order that its third world clientele get the development “goods” others elsewhere enjoy?. The role of national governments in ICT development and access for its rural communities also come into question here. Perhaps regional alternatives too of access and equity to education and training are needed and may be an agenda for regional leaders’ fora as education has historically been a force for good but it has also been a force that promotes inequity and differential delivery. The future must see us continually asking questions to redress past inequalities and address potential future developments of the same.

Guided closely by post-colonial critiques of knowledge and especially of the attempt worldwide to question the dominance of certain knowledge framings in research and writing, the study conscientiously framed its work given the methodological debates by Smith (1999) and the alternatives to methodologies (Grant and Giddings, 2002). This is to ensure the IK and processes of Fijians and specifically Udu peoples are embraced and acknowledged. The study utilized ethnographic techniques of in-depth interviews, participant observations and document study. The study was guided closely by Fijian Vanua Research Frameworks honouring local wisdoms and processes of knowledges, indigenous to context. This is why the book also highlights iluvatu as metaphor and derivative of Vanua framings to situate its findings and processes in the vanua Cuku (as home of the iluvatu mat) and Udu Point.

Decolonizing research allows us to refine institutional agendas to serve the under-privileged, the “unseen”. Rural and remote places also are places of positive struggles and sheer hard work and determination. Tribal Pacific indigenous responses to development, education and schooling as well as continuous research into our educational practices will provide us new insights into professional development ideas, models and strategies for such “far –away” places. Research such as this provide fresh and deep insights into of teachers, students and school communities we serve especially within the post colonial framings and notions of “voice” and access and equity. Suggestions for policy in educational ICT and teacher development are also highlighted. The book written by organic intellectuals provide as well an interesting perspective in the role women play in school and development of island peoples not often publicly acknowledged. The reflective pieces in the last part by the authors suggest the authors are not only engaging in theoretical masterfully scripted ideas but are effectively persons that live and have come through rural, remote island realities and have made it through schools and makes the book all the more interesting, deeply moving and interesting

A Call for Silence in the Pacific

Since colonisation in the Pacific, there has been much talk about cultural differences. Those from European cultures profess a more individualist world view, where one should stand independently of family and social ties. By contrast, Pacific peoples are seen to place much emphasis on genealogy as determinate of selfhood. But behind all this talk, lies a more fundamental difference – silence.

As Unaisi Nabobo-Baba argues in her book Knowing and Learning: An indigenous Fijian approach (Suva: IPS Publications, 2006), the silent child in a Western classroom is seen as a problem. By contrast in many traditional Pacific communities, silence is seen as a culturally appropriate mode of behaviour. Nabobo-Baba goes further and develops a taxonomy of silence, which includes 18 different ways of being quiet, including ‘silence and the elements’ and ‘silence when in awe of custom’ (see here for an extract of her book).

The cultural meaning of silence poses some challenging questions:

  • How can silence be reconciled with modern democracy?
  • What is the role of silence in modern Western countries like Australia?
  • How can silence speak?
  • What is the positive role of silence in the classroom?

Would you be interested in being part of a further discussion about this issue? If you would like to be involved in the development of a colloquium on silence, you are invited to send in your details. This includes:

  • Name
  • Role
  • Area of interest
  • What you would like to contribute to this development

Contributions can include research, a specific perspective, a performance, a venue or a program context.
Please send an email to [email protected]. Responses are due 21 January 2012.

Unaisi Nabobo-Baba, University of Guam www.uog.edu
Kevin Murray, Southern Perspectives www.southernperspectives.net

A taxonomy of silence

This is a brief extract from Unaisi Nabobo-Baba Knowing and Learning: An indigenous Fijian approach (Suva: IPS Publications, 2006 , pp. 94-98). Here she outlines different meanings that silence has in a traditional Fijian community. This complex reading of silence challenges a Western attitude which associates silence with lack of intelligence. Nabobo-Baba’s approach has particular relevance to educators.

Silence, Clan Boundary, Space and Gifting as Ways Of Knowing

Introduction

In Vugalei epistemology, silence plays a major role, equal to that of verbalizing. Offering a taxonomy of silence and outlining appropriate examples, both questions and puts into context the importance of verbalized communication, and demonstrates the importance of the non-verbalized communication that is contained in silence. Silence, as explicated in the taxonomy, says as much about Vugalei epistemology and culture as does verbal language.

Silence as a way of knowing

Silence is pivotal to the Vugalei.1 It emits dignity, and summons a respect that transcends all in a vanua. It gives the vanua its value and its strength. The vanua is said to have mana when it is vakanomodi (encompassed in deep silence). When the vanua assembles, deep silence reflects how people regard their vanua, chief, god, ancestors, and relatives.There is eloquence in silence, and things important in a ceremony are best observed in silence. Silence is a pedagogy of deep engagement between participants.

In Vugalei the word for silence is noma. Increasingly, people use the word galu or vagagalu. Nomo is the base word for vakanomodi, which is the adjective that describes how quiet a place or an event is. The opposite of nomo is sosa or kosakosa\ both these words mean noise or disturbance and connote a situation that lacks peace.

Another antonym of vakanomodi is the word vakasausa (to deliberately make noise so as to offend and show disrespect).

Vugalei people believe all spaces are occupied, or taw a, hence the importance of observing silence in all places. Vugalei people perceive silence as indicative of high birth and an excellent upbringing. It is culturally desirable. However, in most schools and universities, silence, that is the absence of verbal replies, questions and comments from students, is interpreted by educators as a sign of stupidity or lack of participation, and is considered a problem.

Outlined below is a suggested cultural taxonomy of silence, which I developed from interview data and my observations of the Vugalei, as they live their lives.

A proposed cultural taxonomy of silence
  1. Silence and the vanua
  2. Ceremonial silence
  3. Silence and the Church
  4. Silence and the elements
  5. Silence and social class
  6. Silence and clan rights to public speaking
  7. Silence of women
  8. Age and silence
  9. Taukei and vulagi and related silences
  10. Silence and the supernatural
  11. Silence as resistance, disagreement and opposition
  12. Silence and relationships of avoidance
  13. Silence when in awe of custom
  14. Silence in death
  15. Silence of exclusion
  16. Silence of the land
  17. Silence in harvest
  18. Holy silence
Silence and the vanua

When the vanua assembles, there is silence; only a handful of persons are entitled to speak. The vanua dictates such behaviour and protocols. An example of silence and the vanua occurred at a meeting of representatives of the Tailevu Provincial Council Office and the men and chiefs of Vugalei, convened to discuss the how mahogany plantations in Vugalei were to be harvested and the returns would be distributed. The meeting was quiet save for the government committee members, who busied themselves trying to explain what appeared to be inexplicable. Then a momo, a wise, white- haired elder, a maternal uncle, knelt and spoke. He spoke with the dignity and authority of clan truth. It was his place to speak as well as his right and obligation to reprimand those that appeared to be ‘wronging’ the clan. After he spoke, all the elders of Vugalei present and the chiefs retreated into a silence that, often misinterpreted as acquiescence, signalled total opposition by the people to the government proposal.

In all vanua meetings I attended, there was a prevailing silence. When elders speak, all listen. A monologue by the chief, is heard by the meeting in silence. Any response, if verbal, will be done by the right people, at the right time. Silence does not necessarily suggest acceptance or agreement; it can suggest a continuum of reactions from total opposition on the one hand to complete support.

People have had a long training in silence. There is silence in all vanua or village meetings; talk is limited. As Sainimere Toalagi stated:

E nagauna ni bose vakoro, warai na vivosaki se vakasosa e colo. E ra vosa na na moro vosa. 0 ratou na qaravi yaqona e ratou dabe galugalu tu …. E bibi na bose vata na qaravi ni yaqona. In village meetings, there is no unnecessary talking in the upper part of the meeting house. Only those who are destined or born to talk, do the talking. Those that serve the yaqona do so quietly, they do not chat. The meeting is an impor­tant part of vanua life; it is respectcd, and so is the serving of th <t yaqona.

The Vugalei are often heard to say, ‘Na vagagalu e bibi kina ka dokai kina na vanua’ (‘Silence puts weight and respect on the vanua’). Noise, particularly disruptive noise, is considered i tovo ni kaisi (the manner of the common folk) and is not tolerated.

Extreme silence and respect is expected when crossing the village green. Aunt Ulamila Tuinakelo noted: ‘Na vakanomodi e bibi ni da lako tu e loma ni koro (‘Silence is important when one is walking through the village’). On a similar note, Ratu Tevita Tuinakelo commented:

E da dau vakarokoroko, e rokovi na vanua, na tamata, e da dau vakatabuya kina na kaikaila tu e loma ni koro. We respect the vanua, the people, this is why we forbid people from yelling or shouting in the village.

In Vugalei, silence is also observed in the presence of older people; we lower our voices to signify respect and allow only their voices to be heard. This is the same sort of silence given to a chief, which allows the voice and wisdom of the chief to be heard and acknowledged.

Ceremonial silence

Silence is observed in all important ceremonies. Only the voices of the appointed speakers are heard, and even these are highly controlled. This is what SainimereToalagi said with regards to silence during the sevusevu (the ceremony of welcome when a visitor arrives):

Na sevusevu e bibi. E rokovi, e tabu ni dua e curu mai, tabu ni dua na vosa e rogo. Ni sa coboti maka sara na yaqona, ni sa maca na yaqona vakaturaga sa rawa ni qui ia na curu mai vi ira se tu e tuba, na tama mai, vata na vivosaki e loma ni vale. Sevusevu is important. It is respected, no-one is allowed to enter the house or building while it is on, no-one is allowed to chat or be noisy. After the first mix is served, what we called the yaqona vakaturaga (grog for chiefs or leaders), the situation is more relaxed. The silence can be broken after the first bowl is empty and people have all clapped to acknowledge that that is so.

The value of silence is again demonstrated in the following report of a betrothal, in which silence was central to the display of respect between relatives and reflected the seriousness of the ceremony.

The day of the betrothal came. The visiting party (five or six relatives of the betrothed boy) approached the house to the sound of tama (customary cries of greeting) and, having being given affirmative replies from inside, slowly entered, heads bowed. Silence was the dominant ‘voice’, indicating the importance and seriousness of the occasion. Lilieta [the prospective bride] was then summoned … to come and sit in the sitting-room with an aunt, while the visiting party began their requests. The speech highlighted their intentions for Lilieta, their blood ties to the host, the importance of keeping blood ties and the vanua strong by way of the marriage, and their belief that the occasion would be blessed by God and their ancestors. The hosts then replied, the speaker affirming the visitors’ words and emphasizing how the marriage would unite related people and maintain blood ties.

Lilieta was then asked to declare her wishes with regard to the visiting party’s intentions. She maintained her silence for a while. She was asked three times before she spoke of her wishes. This silence was important, as a well-brought- up girl would be expected to show (by her silence) that she is not at all keen to leave her home. She finally agreed and a handful of whales’ teeth were presented to the hosts by the visitors in recognition of the agreement.

Na vakanomodi (deep silence) demonstrates deep respect for an occasion. It also denotes a common understanding and reverence for what is important to the vanua and to the ceremony. Relationships and the purposes of the ceremony are honoured by ceremonial silence.

A new optimism across the Pacific

Australian film-maker John Hughes reports on this year’s Pacific Documentary Film Festival finds new dialogues opening up between islands, languages and cultures.

Fortuitous circumstances (for me, not so much for Harriet) led to an invitation to Tahiti to join the jury of the Pacific Documentary Film Festival FIFO in late January 2011, standing in for the Australian Director’s Guild’s Harriet McKern. At short notice Harriet had to decline FIFO’s offer due to pressing work commitments with the fast approaching ADG Conference. My hesitation took about as long as it takes a falling coconut to hit the ground cracking.

FIFO is in its 8th year and is expanding its horizons. This year the festival hosted a pitch session (for the 2nd time), screenings of short films from the region, a (drama) script development workshop, and a conference on regional media and broadcasting. The short films screening included a number of Australian films. FIFO has developed a partnership with the French Cabourg International Film Festival, and this year screened Cabourg’s 2010 prize winning feature and short drama. Australian films have traditionally done well at FIFO; last year a major prize went to Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Bastardy, and Charlie Hill-Smith’s Strange Birds in Paradise was among the films screened.

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

Poster for 'This Way of Life' directed by Thomas Burstyn

This year there were 15 documentaries selected for competition and around 30 screened out of competition. The screenings were very well attended, with most films screening on three or four occasions over the six days of the festival. Filmmakers from Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and elsewhere in the region attended. A number of Australian films were selected and two won major awards. The Jury’s Grand Prix went to Contact (Bentley Dean, Martin Butler, 78 minutes, 2009) and one of the three Special Jury Prizes went to Kuru: the Science and the Sorcery (Rob Bygott, 52 minutes, 2010). The other two Jury prize winners were New Zealand films. Trouble is My Business (Juliette Veber, 83 minutes, 2009), an observatory documentary dealing with the travails of an energetic vice-principal in an East Auckland school looking after Islander and Maori students and This Way of Life (Thomas Burstyn, 86 minutes, 2009), a sympathetic portrait of struggles and utopian life-style of Maori Christian couple Peter and Colleen Karena, their six kids and 50 horses, as they deal with family trauma in New Zealand’s idyllic Ruahine Mountains.

The People’s Choice audience award went to Lucien Kimitete (Dominique Agniel, 52 minutes, 2010), a Canal+ television account of the life and work of a much loved Marquesas politician and activist who disappeared along with his colleague Boris Léontieff and two associates when their small plane crashed into the sea in May 2002. No wreckage from the plane was ever found. The film acknowledges that many people in the region harbour suspicions about the plane’s disappearance, as Lucien Kimitete and Boris Léontieff were expected to assume power in immanent elections and their effective advocacy of local self-determination threatened the status quo. It is not an investigative film, but rather a wistful celebration of Lucien’s dedication that inspired a generation with the transformative power of traditional Marquesas culture.

FIFO is deeply engaged with these questions of culture and identity across Oceania and particularly alert to the role of documentary and other media forms to the future of French Polynesia. Environmental issues are urgent – last year’s Grand Prix went to a New Zealand film on global warming in the region There Once was an Island: Te Henua E Noho (Briar March, 80 minutes, 2010) – development, underdevelopment and social issues associated with economic uncertainty are balanced against the struggle to sustain a variety of Polynesian cultural identities. ‘Authenticity’, identity politics and self-determination across Oceania animate FIFO’s purpose. Take the Australian prize winners. Bentley Dean’s Contact is a beautifully realised cinematic essay reminding us that among the histories shared by the peoples of Oceania is the devastating encounter of Indigenous peoples with European culture, and in particular its weapons of mass destruction; themes clearly recognizable in French Polynesia.

Still from Kuru

Still from Kuru

Dealing in cannibalism, sorcery, scientific animal experimentation and ‘white man’s magic’ Rob Bygott’s Kuru boldly enters treacherous story territories of anthropology and colonialism in Papua New Guinea without a skerrick of vulnerability to accusations of ‘Orientalism’. The film delivers a deeply moving account of the value of meticulous ethnographic documentation and rigorous scientific curiosity that resulted in the discovery of a new mode of long gestation transmissible disease. The film works through conventions of the science and history specialist factual genre; but here the filmmaker has nourished the documentary content, transcending the tendency of specialist factual to flatten emotional engagement. Rob Bygott’s treatment has deployed shockingly confronting archival footage against warmly intimate testimony from the Fore people of New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands, and this combined with the persuasive humanitarianism and dedication of the film’s main protagonist Michael Alpers, offers an intellectually rich and intriguing narrative beyond both cultural and genre boundaries. The film becomes an exemplary instance of cross-cultural communications where an Indigenous community of Oceania are at the centre of the world.

New Zealanders or Australians made most of the films in competition this year, and were most prominent in the documentary program and short films screened. Much of the work originating locally owes a lot to magazine television. The Polynesian world is abundantly rich in powerful documentary stories. Local people may not yet have had an opportunity to gather together the resources necessary to articulate their own stories in their own documentary voices. Which brings me to the conferences.

The (3rd) ‘Digital Encounters Polynesia’ conference and (5th) Pacific Television Conference held in conjunction with FIFO delivered results. Digital broadcast has recently extended Polynesia’s television offerings, with the familiar attendant questions of ‘choice’ and cultural sovereignty. And a newly installed underwater cable (‘Honotua’) owned by the French Polynesian Telco offers potential for greater broadband communications. This is the context in which there was an agreement signed between France Televisions and the ABC that will allow, among other arrangements, the two biggest media organisations in the Pacific to share footage and content recorded in the field, which will allow for a much greater diversity of content. This will increase both English and French content in the Pacific and has been a long time coming. The deal will allow more stories from English language Pacific nations to make their way to French Polynesia and also provide mechanisms for more stories from the region to make their way back into Australia. Arrangements are in train to establish a syndicate, led by the ABC that will collate and share stories and raw footage from local and regional broadcasters. The conference also resolved to work toward a Pacific film fund to act as an incentive encouraging more independent film production from the diverse Pacific nations. This may take a little longer.

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

Carol Hirschfeld; Photo Phil Doyle

At FIFO this year the ABC was well represented by Radio Australia. Neither SBS nor ABC TV participated in the festival, conferences or the pitch environment. However New Zealand’s Maori TV provided an encouraging model of progressive television in the region. FIFO Jury member and Head of Programming at Maori TV Carol Hirschfeld is a strong supporter of documentary. She recognises the opportunities that creative documentary offers for informed dialogue across the region.

For Maori television documentaries are absolutely vital. Our two main free to air broadcasters in New Zealand are increasingly divesting themselves ­or choosing not to run documentaries – so this is an area (…) we can grow. We are the only free to air broadcaster that has a documentary slot for both local and international documentaries. So in the next five years I see our channel as being the dominant free to air broadcaster of documentaries in New Zealand; that is why a festival such as FIFO (…) will help us fulfil that in the next five years. (Carol Hirschfeld)

Australian documentary filmmakers may envy this commitment. Overall there is a sense of optimism as new networks of culturally diverse media production and distribution emerge across the region. These kinds of events are always eye-openers. We have tended to assume Australia as a kind of European outpost in the Asia-Pacific geography. There is another welcome perspective available in this Oceania imaginary so generously hosted by FIFO.

Apart from the warm and convivial hospitality from the festival, non-stop inspiring meetings with the like-minded from around the world and the region, and the exquisite tropical island environments, what’s a take-home message from FIFO? Don’t miss it, it will do you good. Thanks heaps Harriet; I owe you.

Originally written for the ADG (Australian Director’s Guild) newsletter

An anything but silent night about Melanesia

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Given the unseasonably cold weather, it was a strong turn out at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies for the ‘Silence must be heard’ discussion about Melanesian culture. A large contingent from Papua New Guinea ensured a lively discussion following about the relative benefits of development in the region.

Sana Balai began with a haunting account of her childhood experience in Buka Island listening to waves at night for a sign of the chief’s passing away. She recounted many fascinating incidents she has experienced as a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, dealing with stories from the region that she knows are not permissible for her to hear.

Kirk Huffman compressed his extraordinary experience working in Vanuatu for nearly 40 years, defending the traditional way of life against development. In one remarkable story, he spoke about the taboo associated with the chief’s voice and the interlocutor who cancelled any accidental hearing of the chief by use of a wooden instrument. He also recounted the Vanuatu traditional view of the ‘world of steel’ represented by Westerners, and the village that refused to speak any more after the white men had captured their words in recording devices.

This event planted the seed for a future symposium that might fully explore the politics of silence in our region. Many questions were raised:

  • How does the Western crusade against secrets, such as Wikileaks, engage with societies whose traditions are based on knowledge restrictions?
  • Can silence be seen as a positive action, rather than a withholding?
  • How does this compare to the place of silence in Western culture, such as ‘the right to remain silent’ and ‘a minute’s silence’ of respect?
  • Are there protocols for Westerners who are working with Melanesian societies that builds trust in confidentiality?
  • How can knowledge be understood as the protection of secrets as much as spread of information?

There is clearly much more to learn from Melanesian culture. There is now the prospect of a future event where peoples of the region can share the understanding, commitment and sounds of silence.

When Silence Must be Heard: Knowledge in the Pacific

A dialogue with Sana Balai and Kirk Huffman

Thursday 12 May October 2011 7:30-9pm, Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne

‘Knowledge wants to be free’ is a mantra of the information revolution. The concept of enlightenment is based on the assumption that knowledge is a good in itself, and that any limit on its access is a feudal barrier that fosters prejudice. The recent rise of Wikileaks continues this campaign of liberation through transparency.

But should all knowledge be publically accessible? The Indigenous Fijian Vanua Research Framework advocated by Unaisi Nabobo-Baba contextualises knowledge in the interests of Pacific peoples. Within this framework, knowledge is exchanged with the same kinds of obligations as other gifts. There are times, when silence is the most appropriate form of expression.

In the region, museums play a key role in presenting traditional cultures to the broader public and the western gaze. So how do museums negotiate their public mission to put other cultures on display with opposing Indigenous protocols to control knowledge by ritual means.

Two speakers with extensive experience in putting Melanesian culture into museums will reflect on how to negotiate across knowledge systems.

Sana Balai

Sana Balai

Sana (Susan) Balai was born on Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. An applied science graduate, Sana spent more than 13 years working for Bougainville Copper Limited (CRA/Rio Tinto subsidiary) in the Analytical, Environmental Research and Development Studies Laboratories (Bougainville, PNG), Pilbara Laboratories Niugini Limited (Lae, PNG), and PNG Analytical Laboratories (Lae, PNG). Sana began her museum career in the Indigenous department at Melbourne Museum, 1997-2002, which led to her employment at the National Gallery of Victoria in July 2003. A member of Pacific islands’ Advisory committee to the Melbourne Museum, 1994-99 and a member of the planning committee of Pacific Islands’ festival held in association with the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Sana is an active member of the Papua New Guinea community in Melbourne; she was recently appointed Community Liaison (Victoria) for the Board of Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies in April 2010. Sana is an assistant curator of Indigenous art/curator of Pacific art with the National Gallery of Victoria.

K.Huffman pursued studies in anthropology, prehistoric archaeology, and ethnology at the universities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. Beginning with fieldtrips into parts of the Maghreb, and the northern and western Sahara, he has concentrated on working with traditional cultures in Vanuatu since 1973. From 1977 until the end of 1989 he was Curator (National Museum) of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and still returns regularly to Vanuatu, where he has so far spent just over 18 years working with the peoples and cultures. He has also worked with traditional cultures in parts of South America, the Solomons, and with peasant cultures in the western Mediterranean. Based in Sydney, he is currently Honorary Curator, Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Vanuatu; Member, Scientific Committee, Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, Punaauia, Tahiti (French Polynesia); Corresponding Member, Institute of Advanced Studies, (university of ) Nantes, France; Research Associate, Australian Museum (Sydney), and Honorary Associate, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney. He has published and lectured widely in several languages, and has been involved in the production of numerous cultural radio and television documentary programmes from the 1970s to the present day.

Future Challenges, Ancient Solutions: What we can learn from the past about managing the future in the Pacific

29th November – 3rd December 2010
University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji Islands

Many challenges face the peoples of the Pacific Islands in the 21st century. Solutions are needed that are both effective and acknowledge the cultural context in which they will be applied. Many solutions that have been applied to the Pacific Islands have failed because they have been neither culturally sensitive nor environmentally appropriate. In this regard, it is possible that earlier generations of Pacific peoples came up with solutions to similar challenges that were successful because they were developed by key stakeholders who knew the context intimately.

This conference examines several areas in which there are challenges confronting Pacific Island peoples and looks to the past to see whether solutions were developed in response to comparable challenges. The aim of this conference is to identify those ancient solutions and evaluate their efficacy. The overarching goal is to inform solutions for contemporary challenges, particularly by enhancing their cultural and environmental sustainability to the Pacific Islands context.

See website.