How can shared space drive artistic, healing collaborations? How does Indigenous art intervene in processes of consumerism, global warming, and the environmental effects of the toy market?
In episode 41 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach interviews Pacific Indigenous artists Rosanna Raymond, Léuli Māzyār Lunaʻi Eshrāghi, and Ricky Tagaban, who share their experiences working with the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Museum’s innovative ‘Ae Kai Culture Lab exhibit in Honolulu, Hawai’i.
‘Ae Kai is organized by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC). Following 2016’s transformational Culture Labs—CrossLines in Washington DC and CTRL+ALT in New York City—‘Ae Kai will continue APAC’s practice of community building through curated art making. ‘Ae Kai is the biggest Culture Lab to date, and most of ‘Ae Kai’s participants are based in or rooted in Hawai‘i, with the majority of artists identifying as Pacific Islanders.
Across the three episodes of this miniseries, Cathy talks with curators, artists, and scholars involved with ‘Ae Kai about the themes that this Culture Lab brings together, ranging from climate change and environmental activism in Hawai‘i, solidarities and activism across the Pacific archipelago, queer and trans Indigenous art, Hawaiian sovereignty and the ongoing fight against US colonialism in the region, and the way that the racial, gender, national, decolonial, and environmental convergences of Hawai‘i help us imagine and produce different worlds.
Guests: Rosanna Raymond, Léuli Māzyār Lunaʻi Eshrāghi, and Ricky Tagaban
Rosanna Raymond is an artist of Sāmoan heritage working in the mediums of performance, poetry, installation, and costume and fashion design. Born in New Zealand and having lived over a decade in London, Rosanna is a founding member of Pacific Sisters, a collective of Pacific and Māori artists, performers, fashion designers, jewelers, and musicians that contemporizes traditional perceptions of Pacific art. Rosanna also leads the SaVage K’lub, an artist group whose name challenges the logics of 19th century gentlemen’s clubs that appropriated Pacific objects and peoples. SaVage K’lub artists take Pacific objects out of their usual mode of display, reclaiming them from the confines of a European museum and placing them back within everyday life.
Léuli Māzyār Lunaʻi Eshrāghi is a Sāmoan and Persian artist, curator, writer, and PhD candidate in the Art Design Architecture program at Monash University. His work centers on Indigeneity, language, the body, and queer futures. Across video, photography, painting, and installation, Léuli processes intergenerational trauma, honors diasporic Indigeneity, and imagines multilingual, sovereign bodies and relationships to our planet.
Ricky Tagaban is a two-spirit, Tlingit contemporary artist, Indigenous weaver, and drag performer based in Juneau, Alaska. Ricky’s work foregrounds Chilkat weaving, a form of textile design practiced by First Peoples of the Northwest Coast.
We chatted about
- How the three artists interpret ‘Ae Kai’s theme of convergence in their work (3:00)
- The benefits of convening at ‘Ae Kai, mingling with fellow artists and locals (6:00)
- A preview of the individual and collaborative artwork they’ll share at ‘Ae Kai (9:30)
- The processes of collaboration and sharing (17:30)
- The relationship between humanity, the planet, and their artwork (21:45)
- Imagining otherwise (25:00)
How the three artists interpret ‘Ae Kai’s theme of convergence in their work
Rosanna: I always look at convergence as a space that’s very active and quite volatile. Where things meet, there’s usually a lot of energy or friction.
Ricky: I’m approaching it thinking about time not being linear. I’m thinking of time as more of a spiral, and then how that affects standards of beauty. I’m also thinking about colonization in the sense of not real decolonization, but how it’s ongoing. I’m trying to decolonize standards of beauty, but time has a funny effect on that.
Léuli: I visualized it from when they explained that it’s where salt water and fresh water meet, so I think of it as gathering together and lots of different ways of being in a conversation. I think any kind of gathering is a convergence, but it’s particularly conditions of sharing and one not trying to overtake the other, or in this case many different perspectives being aired and shared.
The benefits of convening prior to ‘Ae Kai, mingling with fellow artists and local activists
Ricky: It was special to be in that time and place with such a big group of artists. I thought it was really special to have so many local people and to be hosted in a way that is very local. Whenever I’m around a bunch of other Indigenous people, I get the sense that we have more in common than not.
Rosanna: Being brought onto the land was really powerful. Bring brought into Honolulu, especially as at the moment where we’re based in America. Getting to the actual land really helped me feel the land, smell the land. And when we actually went to the gardens [Ho’oulu ‘Āina in the Kokua Kalihi Valley] and met the locals, that was really special for me.
The individual and collaborative artwork they’ll share at ‘Ae Kai
Leuli: PŌULIULI is an Indigenous archive and exhibition in that the works are the same works that I showed in Melbourne. And they’re from Dené Cree artists from Vancouver [Canada], Lakota artists from LA [US], Tahitian artists from Hawai’i, Sāmoan artists from Sydney [Australia], Toaripi artists from Melbourne [Australia], and a Sāmoan trio from Aukland [New Zealand]. So there’s lots of different experiences of colonialism, different experiences of queerness and Indigeneity and gender. I’m still trying to find how to frame their work so that they can speak for themselves but also give audiences a bit of a way in.
Rosanna: I’m creating a garment, repurposing military uniforms to create a muʻumuʻu, which is a missionary garment that clothed the bodies of these naked women by the missionaries. So i’m melding a lot of things together that I will then activate.
Ricky: I perform as a drag queen, and I end up with a lot of leftover pantyhose. Those are a specific skin color, and I’m cutting those and spinning them, so that’s where the spiral comes in. I started Chilkat weaving in 2010, and I was asked to learn the art because of my gender identity. As a two-spirit person, Chilkat is reserved for women and two-spirit people. So being asked to learn something prestigious like this art form is reserved for important people, and it’s making garments for important ceremonies.
The processes of collaboration and sharing
Rosanna: I find collectives and collaborating really rewarding, but you cannot put your ego at the center. It’s something that if you do, it’s not really collaboration of sorts. Or maybe if you do put your ego at the center, you’re not opening yourself up to being able to get all of those things that you do get from other people, while bringing on new ideas that you never would have thought of by yourself.
The relationship between humanity, the planet, and their artwork
Ricky: My art is natural fibers, plant fibers, animal fibers. And if that is threatened, that means our food sources are threatened, our air, our water. If the mountain goats are getting away and cedar is endangered, I won’t have a career as a weaver, and I won’t get to practice these sacred ancient techniques.
Ricky: I think it would be fabulous to live in a world where you can enter a place where we already have more of an authentic perception of people’s histories, because there’s so much misinformation about marginalized people and that’s used to further marginalize people.
Rosanna: What sort of word do I want? One that is kind, filled with grace, even in the face of adversity. One that acknowledges difference and is able to acknowledge that there are some tough times coming up, but to also not get bogged down in it.
Léuli: I really believe in an earth-centered epistemology. I think we as humans need to go back to go back to who we have always been before the last 500 years of colonization and capitalism. That is, having really reciprocal and strong relationships with all living creatures around us and the planet.
More from Rosanna, Léuli, and Ricky
- ‘Ae Kai Culture Lab, coming up July 7-9, 2017 in Honolulu Hawai’i—Come join us and meet the 50+ artists, activists, and scholars who are exploring the theme of convergence
- Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC)
- Smithsonian APAC on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
- Rosanna on Tautai
- Rosanna on Facebook
- Léuli’s website
- Léuli’s curatorial project, PŌULIULI
- Léuli on Instagram
- Ricky’s website
- Interview with Ricky about his work
- Ricky’s work featured on Alaska Public Media
- Letuya Hart, Ricky’s drag persona
Projects and people discussed
- Chilkat weaving
- Two-spirit people
- Ho’oulu ‘Āina
- Kokua Kalihi Valley
- Tlingit peoples
- History of the mu’umu’u
- Rising sea levels and land loss in Kiribati
- Mo’olelo—stories or legends in Hawai’i
- Joy Enomoto
- Jessi DeVera
- Black Lives Matter
- Honolulu Biennial
- Hawaiian sovereignty movement
- Pacific Sisters
- Savage K’lub
- Sacred mountains in the Bow Valley, Canada
- Foodland at Ala Moana Center
- Shared Pacific deities: Tangaroa, Rongo, Hina
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.