I'm so pleased to be able to introduce Rosanna Raymond as the third person in our Courageous Operators series. On the face of it, Rosanna is a formidable woman but utterly committed to her creative practice, as you get to know her you become inspired. When I was at school we were shown footage of an island called Samoa, I can't remember why, but though at the time it seemed idyllic for a 7-8 year old, in retrospect it was horribly colonial in its portrayal. It is a reminder of how important it is to hear authentic voices - for individuals to reflect their own reality in public spaces, animated by their own voices. This provides us with an opportunity to make a personal connection with a people and a place and, in turn, see ourselves in new ways. I thank Rosanna for introducing me to a new culture in all its glory. I hope you also feel inspired to find out more about this region of our globe. Here is her story.
Soli I tai, Soli I uta
Tread on the sea, tread on the land
Se'I muamua se fa'asao a manu vao-
Before bird catching a little offering must be made, so it is here I must acknowledge my ancestors... of the past and in the present and take time to thank the peoples who have helped shape my artistic and cultural journey: Albert Refiti, Albert Wendt, Okusi Mahina, Ole Maiava, The Pacific Sisters, Amiria Salmond, and to thank the journal for their interest in sharing with the readers a part of my journey. Fa'afetai tele lava... Thank you.
Fa'atalofa atu I le paia mamalo ma le afio malo lava
Warm Pacific greetings to you all, my name is Rosanna Raymond. I am an artist and currently live and work in the UK where I have been active in establishing dialogues with museums and higher education institutions, focusing on the issues of Pacific Modernity and concentrating on my art practice. My primary voice is one of an artist - I fabricate, articulate, installate and activate spaces.
Where do I start... in an island far away called Aotearoa, named after some long white clouds by a race who traversed the ocean in double-hulled canoes before the birth of Christ... You might recognise it as New Zealand, complete with the Union Jack on our flag and The Queen as our sovereign.
In 1967 I entered a little island nation trying so hard to live up to its colonial fathers, with a complex genealogy: my mother a 4th generation product of French and Irish settler bloods and my father a 2nd generation New Zealand born Samoan with a host of other genes - Tuvaluan, French, German, adding to our Polynesian blood. My paternal grandmother, born in Samoa, had come to New Zealand in the '50s some 20 years before another great migration of Pacific Islanders, as they were brought over in their thousands to work in the factories and fields of New Zealand.
This mix of genes, geography, politics, colonial past, all feeds into my nature and the complexities of growing up in an urban environment at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and has shaped me into the person I am today. I am pale, not obviously ethnic... but enough to experience the racism of the '70s, a lot of which was aimed at my palagi (European) mother... with her mixed race kids. Enough also to be taunted at schools by both white and brown, enough to be told to 'go home', enough to be caught in that space in between.
Growing up in New Zealand was pretty easy though I must say I enjoyed the great outdoors, the water a huge part of my life, as was driving up to the far north where my mother is from. The land definitely defined me at an early age, as did the total unconditional love of my Samoan grandmother in lieu of my absent father. As I grew older finding a place to stand proud, a place to fit in, became the driving force of my work.
Auckland in the late 1980s was a hot bed of Polynesian empowerment through the arts, music and fashion. A new wave of urban Polynesians were finding new avenues to create their own visual landscape, telling new stories and creating new histories. I was part of this movement, which was a result of 2nd and 3rd generation New Zealand born Polynesians demanding a place/space in a country that was learning to accept their presence and impact on the 'bicultural' society that it thought it was. Reflecting in its policies and respecting the treaties that had been made with the tangata whenua, (people of the land) the Maori people and the white settler communities. As there was not any room to acknowledge the new wave of migration by peoples of the Pacific Islands and our links to Maori as Polynesians in the mainstream, my circle of friends who were artists, activists, carvers, musicians, performers, university students, would debate issues of cultural appropriation, colonialism, authenticity, and the continuum of our cultural heritage.
It was within this backdrop that I became a member of the Pacific Sisters, a multi-cultural collective of artists. We were all New Zealand born Pacific Islanders: Maori, Samoan, Cook Island, Tongan, Rotuman and Fijian. We were defining ourselves as Pacific Island culture that had developed within New Zealand, using the arts, crafts, fashion, and music. Urban Pasifika was coined to describe this movement that we were part of. We were trying to find a voice within a society that did not want to recognize us, or didn't know how to recognize us.
I was lucky to have art as an outlet to articulate myself, but I didn't realize I was an artist as I had been indoctrinated by the Eurocentric education system. I was creating and curating installations of customized fashion and performance-based works in empty shops, working with friends who were producing all sorts of clothing, sculpture, painting, poetry, directing performance-based fashion shows deconstructing Eurocentric ideals of beauty and performance. I was intrigued with the Dusky Maiden as most of my dusky mates didn't hang out on beaches wearing a hula skirt but we were familiar with her and certainly at some stage had donned a hula skirt... Most of these events didn't happen in galleries but in the streets, in the clubs, at festivals; it was well outside the mainstream of the New Zealand visual landscape at that time.
Most of us didn't learn our art forms in a school or institutions, we had learnt from our elders and each other, but it was the Pacific Sisters, Ani O'Neill and Lisa Reihana, who had been through that system that brought our worlds together as they involved us in their exhibitions in commercial galleries and this became the norm for us.
Academics started to creep into my peripheral vision at festivals and art galleries. My first impression of the world of academia and anthropology was problematic and based on the experiences I had had with various academic articles written and analysed from a distance, by 'professionals' with 'impartial views'. I found some very staid views on what Polynesian Culture should be, not about what it has developed into. Debates on hybridity, the effects of diaspora and the institutionalised telling of histories, challenge the legitimacy of our culture and how it has been maintained... a one-way dialogue... Outside of this we were having our own debates on such issues, but could find no room for voices within formal fora.
To read about yourself labelled as 'hybrid', having your 'authenticity' questioned by people outside my community left me feeling somewhat vexed. I was often frustrated at the many mistakes and misrepresentations that appeared in articles, especially by people who had spent very little or no time with us or within our community. Often our involvement in projects as practitioners was welcomed, but our analysis of what we were doing was not considered as important unless validated by an 'expert.' It left me feeling apprehensive about the world of academia and its experts but, subsequently a more balanced relationship has developed with anthropology, academia and institutions. Albeit a long process that is still ongoing, it has become part of my work and creative process.
In late 1999, my world changed as I moved to London with my husband and children. Moving out of the Pacific has affected how and why I work in so many different ways, good and bad. New modes of work were needed I no longer had access to my usual materials. An indifferent art world with very little interest in the Pacific left me floundering, once again to find a space and voice. Most of all, I left behind my most precious tāonga...my elders, and peers, who had helped me nurture my craft and helped develop my techniques and knowledge, kanohi ki te kanohi... face to face. For the first time in many years I was working alone. Having been used to working with the Pacific Sisters and with my creative and cultural community for so long, this was totally new experience for me.
Without my community I turned to the next best thing for me - the tāonga (cultural treasures) in museums to try and overcome the distance. I knew that England had vast quantities of booty from the imperial past... in fact to me the museum is an artefact of imperialism. Through the tāonga, I continued to add to my art practice, the past became present, and I felt connected to my cultural heritage once more as they inspired me to keep creating and producing new works. These encounters also brought me closer to the world in which they had been hibernating, as I started to attend some of the academic conferences that focused on Polynesian arts and culture. I was curious to hear what scholars had to say and found that I could add my own voice to theirs.
This has led to a very fruitful 15 years in the UK, which in turn has developed into a truly global art practice. This has taken me to Europe, criss-crossing the Atlantic to Canada the USA and the Pacific where I have contributed to many academic journals, been invited as a guest speaker in many universities and symposiums, developed workshops and public programmes, published and performed my spoken word, exhibited as a visual artist, rendered live artworks and researched collections. With my costuming and visual art included in private and public collections, including:
- Museum für Völkerkunde, Frankfurt, Germany
- Te Papa, New Zealand;
- National Gallery of Victoria, Australia,
- Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, UK
- Royal Albert Museum, Exeter UK
- De Young Museum, San Francisco, USA.
Not to mention art residencies which include:
- The De Young Museum, San Francisco
- University of Hawaii, Honolulu
- De Young Museum, San Francisco
- Museum of Art and Anthropology, UBC, Vancouver
- Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, UK, where I curated the internationally acclaimed Pasifika Styles exhibition with Dr Amiria Salmond http://www.pasifikastyles.org.uk/
My work with museums (I've been told) has helped to instigate new modes of interactions between artists and museum collections. I have been able to collaborate with academics, students, artists, members of the Polynesian community and to form new networks within the arts and museum communities here in the UK and around the world. It is a challenging relationship, but nevertheless a very important aspect of my practice, which I am still negotiating.
So many museum collections around the world have lost their multiple voices... the mauri (life force) is gone... along with the intangible histories that reside within them. The collector is always there, descriptions of materials and techniques are diligently noted and mostly they are never to be seen - conserved out of existence in an effort to preserve them for future generations. I feel it is part of my job to keep these dynamic relationships activated - making museums and our cultural heritage relevant and present in the now http://www.horniman.ac.uk/get_involved/blog/poutokomanawa-on-the-move
There is still much work to be done if we are to add to the narratives, current attitudes and practice embedded in museum culture. I truly believe working with museums can help bridge the gap that has developed in the housing, collecting and writing of indigenous art practices over the past 200 years, but we need to work together for this change if it is to be more meaningful than lip service, than creating more theory, or box ticking. I want to base myself back in the Pacific again and retain an international practice, keeping the connections and relationships I have formed over here in the UK, as I feel it does help to create awareness that we exist. And I want to keep the pressure on museums to focus on the living just as much as the dead - that is hard if they don't have a living community to hand.
I write this as a guest artist at the Berlin Interweaving Performance Cultures Research Centre fulfilling a residency at the Dahlem Museum, researching the collections, reactivating this space through my presence, creating a shared space where the collections, the audience and I come together to retranslate, reconstitute, reactivate - adding to the narrative of the collections and keeping the legacy of contact living and very much in the now.