Diaspora plays a major role in the history of Pacific contemporary art. Theories of the phrase can be both regional and global in definition. Historically, the term has been used to describe what has happened to the Jewish race for over two millennia. Diaspora is a dislocation and a sense of longing for one’s homeland. The notion can be temporary or permanent and addresses cultural displacement because of migration. Modern usage of the term diaspora within contemporary art raises questions about the politics of identity, context, place, exile, hybrid cultural memory, and a critical interpretation of the self and other.
This departure from history’s position of diaspora referring only to the past is necessary – the pacific has changed due to globalisation and migration over the last half century so the definition needs to evolve. Melissa Chiu, a director of contemporary art and author of Breakout Chinese Art; Outside China, writes about the term Trans-experience. Trans-experience is a development of the term diaspora.
There is common ground these Pacific artists from Home AKL draw inspiration from – it is a memory of the homeland be it one that affects their past, present or future. The Pacific homeland itself is an evolving influence for these artists rather than a fixed moment when migration occurred.
Trans-experience is strongly evident in the art practice and paintings of John Pule. He was born in Niue, at the age four he moved to New Zealand and only returned to his homeland as a young adult. His paintings create a conversation of how one’s cultural roots, religious communities and childhood upbringing is continuing to influence him now and possibly in his future, as it did in his migration to New Zealand when he was young. Moreover, it may have been the reason which drew him back to his homeland many decades later. The composition of his painting Motu Keheaga shows many different varying images and subject matters. What ties it all together is how it is all one story of his life. His paintings can be read as a self-reflection, a chronicle of the journey of finding himself and his roots.
|John Pule, Motu Keheaga, 1998|
oil on unstretched cotton, courtesy of the artist