The December 2017 issue #9 will focus on New Zealand / Aotearoa / Pacific / Moana. We hope to be a new space for gathering contemporary ways of making, particularly those that are not easily accommodated in the modernist studio model. As part of a journey across the region, this will be part of a broader conversation about ornament that includes space for exchange and dialogue.
Within a modernist paradigm, objects are ideally encountered on a plinth in a gallery abstracted from their production or use. However, the value of objects often lies in their customary role within ritual practice, particularly gift exchange. When a guest arrives in a community, or a member returns after a long absence, there is sometimes an offering made as a sign of welcome. In the Pacific, as well as many Asian cultures, this often takes the form of a string of flowers that is bestowed on the guest. Sometimes this exchange can be commercialised, as when souvenirs are offered for sale to tourists.
How do we value these kinds of objects in our world today? We tend to give value to those things that endure. However, many welcome objects such as lei will last only a few days. What does it mean when we make them out of more lasting substance, such as stone or metal?
Our understanding of the Pacific lei is limited by the image of a smiling welcome to tourists in Hawaii. But how do these forms differ between the islands? What’s involved in their production and use? How are they used as Pacific communities live increasingly outside their home islands?
The use of flowers is an expression of natural abundance and provides an enchanting scent. But many of us live away from nature in artificial urban environments. Is it more appropriate to include man-made materials? What if they are mass-produced in China, can they still have a customary use?
Sometimes guests outstay their welcome. In many cases in the Pacific, Europeans were greeted with customary ceremonies on the assumption that they were temporary visitors. How do contemporary rituals of welcome reflect on the impact of colonisation?
Issue #9 will be an important opportunity to reflect on the complexities of Pacific cultures today. The re-invention of customary practices for a contemporary world will be of great interest in the broader conversation about the value of creative expression.
For more about Sione Monu’s series, see here.