Sosefina Andy, Jermaine Dean, Shivanjani Lal, Valasi Leota-Seiuli, Pilimilose Manu, Talia Smith, Matavai Taulangau, Kelsi Tulafono, Cora-Allan Wickliffe
September 3 - 15, 2016
Curated by Louisa Afoa
Opening: Saturday September 3, performances 6pm-8pm
Book Launch, Gina Cole’s book of short stories Black Ice Matter: Friday September 9, 6pm-8pm
Artist talks: Wednesday September 14, 6pm-8pm
Cora-Allan Wickliffe, Off the wall (2014) performed at AXENÉO7, photo courtesy of artist.
By Louisa Afoa
My Facebook feed was riddled with posts dedicated to Pita Taufatofua shortly after the 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony. For those that don’t recognise the name, he is a Tongan Taekwondo practitioner from Australia but is now better known as the Tongan team’s flag bearer, who was dressed in ngatu and ta’ovala and more notably in body oil. Representation of Pacific people includes a long history of being subjected to a Eurocentric and patriarchal gaze. Perhaps amplified by the contested views on the representation of Maui in the upcoming Disney film Moana, Pita Taufatofua soon became the real life figure that Pacific people could be proud of.
Knowledge about the origin of coconut oil and its various traditional uses in the Pacific became more visible as a result of the social media frenzy over his rock solid abs. The light-hearted memes floating around about how good looking Pita was were everywhere. It was a feel good moment of solidarity and pride for Pacific people across the globe.
However, things soon became uncomfortable when Taufatofua was featured on the Today Show and — while being interviewed — three white women applied oil to his body, exoticising and exploiting him. The comment section was filled with Pacific audiences expressing their dismay. One comment echoed my own thoughts stating: “I wonder if there would have been so much attention on the "oil" if Pita did not fit into what the Western world deems beautiful…”. This athlete whose journey to the Olympic games was at least four years in the making was overshadowed by fetishisation.
Offstage — Tautai Contemporary Art Trust’s annual moving image and performance based event — is now in its seventh iteration. As I read through the past promotional material for Offstage — including artists such as Tanu Gago, Darcell Apelu, Yuki Kihara, and Lonnie Hutchinson — I am reminded of how important agency and autonomy is in terms of image making. Particularly when the above example shows how easy it is in the age of social media to objectify someone outside of their cultural context.
Offstage has consistently provided a platform for promising contemporary Pacific voices in timebased formats, and this year’s iteration has a focus on personalised narratives. While each artist experiences similar oppressions, they all present a very different experience of ‘being Pacific’, bringing together works with a variety of concerns such as gender, distance, the body, labour, knowledge and embodied trauma.
Offstage 7 provides a unique opportunity to experience a snapshot of Pacific dialogues through time based practices. The emphasis here though is that being of Pacific descent is a personal experience that should not be generalised.