The appreciation of contemporary Pacific arts requires an approach as unique as the images and expressions emerging and intriguing the local and international art world. The Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture in Suva, Fiji is producing contemporary art that moves globally but is rooted in the customs and cultures of Oceania; thus I will propose a unique approach when appreciating and interpreting their work based on the artist rather than western standards of art appreciation, which include a focus on composition, form, line, color choice, and technical skill as set by Western standards.
There are layered dimensions in the imagery and forms flowing out of Oceania and flourishing amidst international artists, yet this art is diminished if qualified within western standards of art criticism and critique. While ‘art for art’s sake’ is a standard notion of western arts it is a foreign concept in the Pacific where aesthetic objects, historically, had functional value. And I argue that ‘art for art’s sake is not the initial, or primary, motive for artists, such as those at the Oceania Centre; therefore to adequately appreciate the complexity of the imagery we must consider the importance of the presence of the artist and the relationships that inspire such creativity.
Consequential aspects that may be complimentary or oppositional to those local influences are the contemporary issues such as globalization, environmental issues, political tensions, and loss or weakening of indigenous language, customs, and knowledge. To grasp contemporary Pacific arts one must begin with the artist because the process of creation offers a dimension that the product may not. These artists are informed by the creations of their ancestors, ancestors who did not have a lone word for art.
The artisans of the past reflected, represented, and adapted elements of their environment with aesthetic styling. Some of these creations were major undertakings that fostered relationships in a collective effort that resulted in the perpetuation of particular knowledge in the younger generations; for example, the Papua New Guinean malanggan, which is produced only to be destroyed, highlights the importance of process over product.
I will emphasize the importance of process in the creation of aesthetic objects (which I refer to as art) as a method of passing on knowledge and assuring the persistence of customs which will be adapted and regenerated in each subsequent generation. I will incorporate reflections of long-established systems of creativity in Oceania as I offer my own reflections on the syncretism in art emerging out of the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture.
By examining the processes of art through a focus on the artist, I aim to reveal a network of meaning, a flowing system, that reflects the cultural motivations, expectations, knowledge, and implications integrated in contemporary Pacific arts which in turn offer an exceptional comprehension that is not achieved through Western standards of critique. Western critique being focused on the elements generally learned through an academic or practical training in artistic design and technique as dictated by the Euro-American academy.
Created by HIGGINS Katherine Connell