Current PAA at CAA

Pacific Arts Association Affiliated Society
CAA, 1.5 Hour Session, Feb. 2014, Chicago

Session Title: Unsettling Pacific Visions: Complicity and Contestation in Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and Sāmoan Contemporary Art

Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Ph.D., Program in American Culture
Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Marata Tamaira, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of International Relations
Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific

Maile Arvin, Ph.D., Ethnic Studies
University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow, History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California, Santa Cruz

Stacy L. Kamehiro, Ph.D., Associate Professor, History of Art and Visual Culture
University of California, Santa Cruz

Session Abstract

Unsettling Pacific Visions: Complicity and Contestation in Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) and Sāmoan Contemporary Art

This session analyzes the complicated artistic and political choices made by contemporary indigenous Pacific Islander artists whose work intervenes into the colonial realms of performance, tourism, and science. Political and economic structures of settler colonialism in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific have long placed a heavy burden of racial and cultural authenticity on indigenous Pacific Islanders. Tourism is ever hungry for displays of “real” culture, and a related logic of authenticity circulates in many states’ management of indigenous rights—indigenous peoples must often be a certain percentage of native “blood” to be considered a “real” native.

In this context, contemporary indigenous Pacific Islander artists must negotiate many practical and creative contradictions. As panelist Mārata Tamaira discusses, for example, the new Disney ʻAulani resort now holds the largest collection of contemporary Kanaka Maoli art anywhere in the world. What does it mean that a company built on escapist fantasies owns such a treasured, rooted collection (and the land it sits on)? Panelist Stephanie Nohelani Teves similarly explores how Kanaka Maoli artists continue to find meaning in performances of aloha despite, or even precisely because of, aloha’s widespread appropriation. Panelist Maile Arvin considers the legacies of the scientific visualizations of the Polynesian “racial type.” She turns to Sāmoan artist Shigeyuki Kihara in exploring how contemporary indigenous Pacific Islander artists intervene into such long-established visions of racial authenticity. Overall, the panel contributes a sustained reflection on the ways indigenous Pacific Islander artists necessarily engage in both complicity and contestation as they work to decolonize colonial visions of the Pacific. 

Paper Abstracts

Paper #1 Title: Through the Keyhole: Encountering Kanaka Maoli Art at the ʻAulani, A Disney Resort and Spa
Marata Tamaira, Ph.D. Candidate
International Relations, Australian National University College of Asia and the Pacific

On September 22, 2011, after three years of planning and construction and an expenditure of US$850 million, the ‘Aulani Disney Resort opened its doors to the Hawai‘i public. One of the most notable features of the resort is its permanent display of contemporary Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) art produced by over 60 artists. While the inclusion of contemporary Kanaka Maoli art at the ‘Aulani has provided an opportunity for Kānaka Maoli to represent Hawai‘i from a uniquely indigenous perspective, their visual narratives are nevertheless displayed within the larger framework of corporate tourism, through which their culture and identity has been routinely debased and misrepresented. My paper examines the inherent tensions and complexities involved in the production of art by Kānaka Maoli for a tourist space like ‘Aulani, with special consideration given to the processes of negotiation and collaboration between Native artists and corporate entities.

Paper #2 Title: How to Do Things With Aloha: Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) Performance and Strategic Disavowals
Stephanie Nohelani Teves, Ph.D.
Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow
Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley

This paper examines the strategic disavowals of Kanaka Maoli performers who rearticulate aloha for community recognition and belonging in a manner that evades the optics of the State. Building on J.L. Austin’s theory that speech acts are performative and do things, I contextualize the Hawaiian concept of “aloha” as a performative utterance that works to sustain Hawaiian indigeneity at the same time it operates as one of the most insidious technologies of settler-colonialism. Through an exploration of the work of two contemporary Kanaka Maoli performers—a rapper who utilizes state logics of racialization to ground his indigeneity and a drag queen who hides her indigeneity to unsettle attempts to appropriate the indigenous subject—I provide a critique of neoliberal knowledge production and the desire to identify the “truth” or “essence” of Kanaka Maoli indigeneity. I shift the focus away from disparaging the appropriation of aloha to look instead at the conditions that require Kānaka Maoli to perform aloha and how Kānaka Maoli engage with aloha by performing it. I elaborate that aloha is not who we are in a historical sense, but what we have become in a performative sense as Kānaka Maoli. But, “who we are,” as this paper explains, occurs through processes of negotiation, tricksterism, strategy, and to some extent, complicity.

Paper #3 Title: Polynesian Types: Refracted Visions of Race and Indigeneity in Hawai‘i and the Pacific
Maile Arvin
University of Caifornia President’s Postdoctoral Fellow
History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California, Santa Cruz

This paper considers the legacies of visualizing indigenous Pacific Islanders and other residents of Oceania as "racial types." Racial type images were a common genre of representation in both scientific and popular images from the mid-nineteenth century through the mid-twentieth century. Such images included broad array of photographs, diagrams, sculptures, and other media that social scientists created to visually demonstrate the differences in physical characteristics between various races and "race mixtures," including “Caucasian,” Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and “Part Hawaiian.” This paper uses historical racial type images as a poignant illustration of my key argument: namely, that the representation and promotion of racial mixture, particularly between white settlers and “almost white” Polynesians, has been an important part of the ideological structure of settler colonialism in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific. For as Polynesians became “part white,” white settlers also saw themselves as becoming Polynesian—at least to the extent that they saw themselves becoming equally native to the Pacific. The paper also analyzes contemporary art by indigenous Pacific Islanders who have commented and critiqued such racial type photographs. For example, Sāmoan artist Shigeyuki Kihara’s work often restages and queers the format of ethnographic and racial type photographs. I look at how such work refracts colonial visions of race and indigeneity in productively unsettling ways.