– Autumn/Winter 2018

Beyond Essentialism: Contemporary Moana Art from Aotearoa New Zealand

Lana Lopesi

Janet Lilo, Don’t Dream It’s Over, 2016, banana light posts. Photograph: Michael Lewis. Courtesy the artist

I will not pretend that I know her in all her manifestations. No one – not even our gods – ever did; no one does… no one ever will because whenever we think we have captured her she has already assumed new guises – the love affair is endless…

– Albert Wendt1

The ocean that Maualaivao Albert Wendt writes about has many names. It is called Te Moana Nui a Kiwa here in Aotearoa New Zealand,2 the great ocean of Kiwa. Kiwa is also the name of the guardian of the ocean and son of Papat¯u¯anuku and Ranginui.3 It is known as Moan¯akea in Hawai‘i, which acknowledges it as a great ocean where the energy ‘cannot be harnessed’.4 Moana means ocean in the S¯amoa, Tonga, Niue and Tahiti languages. Scholars ¯Okusitino M¯ahina, Kolokesa M¯ahina-Tuai and T¯evita Ka‘ili have picked up on how the term moana centres indigenous commonality, providing a way to discuss this part of the world.

What one calls the Moana, the other calls the Pacific Ocean – or Mar Pacifico, the name given to it in 1521 by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The ‘Pacific Ocean’ is the most commonly used term for referring to the vast

  1. Albert Wendt, ‘Toward a New Oceania’, Mana Review, vol.1, no.1, 1976, p.49.

  2. Aotearoa is the Te Reo Māori name for New Zealand. Te Reo Māori is the language of the Māori people, the indigenous people of New Zealand. In this essay I use Aotearoa New Zealand to signal its multiple histories.

  3. Papatūānuku (the earth mother) and Ranginui (the sky father) are key figures in Māori mythology.

  4. B. Pualani Lincoln Meialua, ‘Moanaākea’, in The Space Between: Negotiating, Place and Identity in the Pacific Culture (ed. A. Marata Tamaira), University of Hawaii: Honolulu, 2009, p.143.

  5. Ron Brownson, ‘Roundtable: Thinking Through Oceania Now’, Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture, no.4, 2010, p.91.

  6. Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, London: Zed Books, 2012, p.27.

  7. James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, Volume 3, London: Champante & Withrow, 1793, p.ivii.

  8. L. Tuhiwai-Smith, Decolonizing Methodologies, op. cit., p.21.

  9. Ibid., p.25.

  10. Faith Wilson, ‘The Miseducation of Faith Wilson’, available at https://stpaulst.aut.ac.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/163446/FINAL_Between-you-and-me-roomsheet.pdf (last accessed on 3 May 2018).

  11. Bebo was a pre-Facebook social networking site launched in 2005. At its peak it overtook Myspace with 10.7 million users. It eventually shut down in 2013.

  12. Conversation with the artist, 27 March 2018.

  13. Ranui Action Project is a community development group based in the suburb of Ranui, in the West side of Auckland, New Zealand.