Litia writes on the importance of sharing Pasifika stories, through a Pasifika lens to ensure true & honest representation of the culture.
"When Pacific artists are forced to make their work more explicable and easily digestible for the white gaze we rob it of its instinct, its riskiness, and its creative potential. Nothing progressive is ever generalisable."
In year 13 I made several paintings for my art portfolio inspired by stills from David Lynch’s films Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet. I thought they were pretty good, and I spent the best part of a year pouring my creativity into them. One afternoon our pālagi art teacher went around the class to review each student’s portfolio progress. She leant over my shoulder and stared at my surrealist paintings with a puzzled expression. “These are great”, she said “but I think you could make them a little more Pacific.” Before I could respond, she shuffled to the next student, and I was left questioning my own interests and instincts. What did she mean by ‘more Pacific’? Was I supposed to decorate my canvas with frangipanis and coconut trees? Was it not enough to just paint what I liked? I still think about that moment almost a decade on as I consider what it means to tell a ‘Pacific’ story for the page or on the screen...
I was recently in a film workshop where the facilitator asked us to write down the premise of our dream Pacific film. I thought about writing something grand like an Oceanic mythological epic or gritty drama because they seemed like the ‘right’ kind of Pacific stories to tell (and would be very cool, don’t get me wrong). I ended up writing “a chill coming-of-age indie with island kids kinda like Dazed and Confused”. No death. No brutality. No violence. No warriors. No trauma. Just island kids hanging out being their weird and wonderful selves for 90 minutes. It’s a pipe dream, but one I keep longing for given the overwhelming whiteness of the coming-of-age genre. I can already hear the nay-sayers (“But what are the stakes? Where is the drama?”) which are oftentimes film-speak for “but where is the trauma?”, as though our stories are only valued when we cannibalize our pain into heavy-handed narratives. Isn’t our joy, our whimsy, and our fun something to be captured, too? Maybe not, says Lana Lopesi, because that’d mean recognising us in our full humanity. Our ‘Pacificness’ (whatever that may be) isn’t defined by our proximity to pain, nor is it neatly packaged into hibiscus flowers and big smiles. Some of us are strange. Some of us are grumpy. Some of us are awkward. Some of us are hilarious. Some of us are ditzy. Some of us are annoying. There’s no single Pacific story. When Pacific artists are forced to make their work more explicable and easily digestible for the white gaze we rob it of its instinct, its riskiness, and its creative potential. Nothing progressive is ever generalisable. I’m interested in exploring cinematic pockets that Pacific peoples, especially women, seldom see themselves in. It’s not about repopulating brown characters into white worlds or squeezing ourselves into the dominant frame; it’s about creating our own pop-culture imagery where we’re afforded the freedom to create as we please. SIS the show is a wonderful example, as is Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck, and the ever-groundbreaking work of the FAFSWAG collective. Expanding our creative canon means a release from the shackles of the representation agenda™, a slick corporate trick more concerned with respectability politics than affording us story sovereignty. The gatekeepers will always circle like vultures, but the worst is when we internalise that logic and weaponise it against our own.
I like that many Pacific artists deeply consider how their communities might receive their work, subverting the deification of the ‘auteur genius’ who says and does whatever they please without any relational care for how our collective stories are brought into the world. But our work can’t be everything to everyone at once. It’s not all meant for me. It’s not all meant for you. It's not even meant for all of us. And that’s ok! The ancestor’s past, present and future are always waiting in the wings to give us a flick behind the ears when needed. Let there be conflict because conflict is generative- just free my people from the representation™ burden.
Written by Litia Tuiburelevu