Festival of Pacific Arts, Guam 2016
Star weaving in the Guam pavilion. Huge thanks to Lia Barcinas and Jesi Bennett for organising. Photo: Ruth McDougall
You guessed it, the Festival of Pacific Arts in Guam was AMAZING! I went there straight after my trip to Hawaii where I spent some time developing some weaving skills and new work. It was an incredible 3 weeks of experiencing the diversity and also the strengths and challenges of our Pacific Island nations. Some people in Hawaii told me that Guam is very similar, but on a smaller scale. It was definitely hot and humid (which I am missing) but Ruth McDougall (Curator, Pacific Art QAGOMA) and I quickly learnt that locals don't do anything during the day and that it's best to get to the Festival in the late afternoon. There was so much to see, INCREDIBLE traditional and contemporary art and magnificent weaving. So much colour and texture, and even when the palette was more earthy colours of brown and black, the patterns and designs were truly divine. The weaving from the Solomons and the masi (bark cloths) from Fiji were a highlight for me. Marshall islands was also a stand out for me. Their intricate weaving in their fans and in their more funky fashionable stuff like earrings and jewellery is so inspiring for weavers like me.
Beautiful woven fans from Tuvalu. Photo: Maryann Talia Pau
I'm getting better at identifying the differences in the weaving styles between the different island nations which is rewarding. It also means I can appreciate the similarities. These similarities are not just in craft, but in language, dance and some cultural protocols. The word star, for example, is "etu" in Samoan, "fetu" in Cook Islands and "hoku" in Hawaiian.
It really is a special thing to travel as much I am this year, to talk to people about the Million Stars project and to say to them personally, “You and everyone you know, is welcome to be part of this project.” Because of this funding, I am able to do what the tutorial video can’t do, and that is to meet people where they are at, spend some time with them and share in their joy in star weaving. I feel like I could travel to every country in the world and talk to people and run star weaving workshops and create incredible installations everywhere. There is power and connections that can only be created in person, with time and with a spirit of reciprocity. The light and hopefulness of the stars allows this incredible exchange to happen. The beauty and openness of the stars helps people to receive me into their communities. I always think about this dynamic and I am equally aware that not everyone will be welcoming or capture the vision and possibility. And that's ok too.
Solomon Island young men dancing in the Fest Pac village, Pasea Park. Guam. Photo: Maryann Talia Pau.
I felt a bit overwhelmed in Guam, one reason was because I was genuinely missing not seeing fruit trees between where I was staying in Tamuning and the Festival at Paseo Park in Hagatna. Like Honolulu, coconut fruit has to be picked and removed so that they won't fall on tourists. Falling coconuts are known to kill people! I tried desperately to look for a papaya tree and then I spotted a mango tree on the way to a local grocer. It made me so happy to see one. The little things really do matter, like finding out that Ruth was staying in the same hotel. We got to spend a lot of time together and connect as friends and as an artist and curator in the big world of art in Brisbane and beyond. I don't think we would have had this experience if we were home in Brisbane. These are the things I'm grateful for too.
I spent a lot of time thinking about what is traditional and contemporary art and who decides what these things are. Many people come with different agendas and expectations so they look for different things and are sensitive to different things as well. This helped me to appreciate that decisions on what a delegation wears, the songs they will sing or the dances they perform are all informed by how they want people to perceive them, which is out of your control anyway. Some things could be done better, for example, in the Festival handbook, Australia has as it's greeting as "G'day mate" which does not reflect the richness or diversity of our country's many Indigenous languages. We could've had at least 2 greetings with side note saying that we have hundreds! I still don't know what the answer is but I enjoyed talking to several artists, makers, curators and interested folk who appreciate the role of the arts in Pasifika cultures. We are such a dynamic and curious lot. We are fiercely proud of the people that represent our individual island nations and we enjoy learning new things about each other.
What I loved the most about being in Guam was honing in on my purpose for practising weaving, which is so varied between weavers. Some like the sacredness of weaving, that it is a living, active representation of our dynamic and diverse cultures across the moana (ocean). Some like that weaving is complex and intricate and that the materials of pandanus, coconut or hibiscus fibre are at the mercy of the weavers will and creativity. Some enjoy that it is a viable, easy option for generating an income for their family and living needs. Materials are plentiful and lots of tourists love buying woven treasures for their homes. My purpose has changed over time. I still value the sacredness and connectivity to ancestors and place, but I love how weaving is used to communicate a global vision of people working together to end violence in every country, in every culture. The weaving is secondary or dare I say, insignificant, compared to what people experience just by being with others. Even in the different pavilions at the Festival, aunties and makers enjoy hanging out, waiting to chat and meet with interested locals about who they are, where they're from, or who's performing next on the main stage. They know that their weaving is amazing dot com, but it's kind of like, "meh. My craft is enabling me to experience this incredible once in a life time event of the Pacific Arts Festival." I'm not saying this was every maker or weavers experience. We've all got different reasons for upholding our cultural practises, to be a gate keeper of it, to be a sharer of it, to be an innovator and to experiment and take it in new and wonderful directions. Sometimes all of the above.
When we can see that everyone's role is important and that things don't have to be either or, I think we are more enriched as human beings and the we achieve more together. Often, it is easy to criticise others for how they do things because it is not how we would do things. I think if we can try and appreciate their perspective and rather than feel scared or intimidated, recognise that we have different skills to exercise and roles to play, we can approach bigger issues with a sense of enquiry and with a spirit of helping others to understand. Ultimately, when we feel like we are working in collaboration and in partnership with each other, not against each other, it's how we can all give our best.
Star weaving in the Guam pavilion. Photo: Ruth McDougall