Sunday, March 11, 2012


So, here I am at Auckland airport, waiting for the overnight flight to Shanghai. Very excited to be starting work on our next creative process, and also by the work I've seen here over the last ten days. One of the main reasons for coming to Auckland was the Pasifika Festival, which Rosanna was instrumental in starting some 20 years ago, and which she's been telling me I have to see. Auckland is the world's largest Polynesian city, and this Festival is the largest Polynesian cultural event. Some 100,000 people passed through yesterday. I was one of them.

What's remarkable about Pasifika is just how "grass roots" it is. Every island community has its "village" within the site, with a stage for music, dance and ceremony, plus stalls - most of which are dedicated to their food. It's an alcohol-free zone, and there's a huge stress on family - from elders to babies. I ate far too much and bought a bark painting from the Solomon Islands.

The most interesting aspects are, of course, the quirkiest. To see Samoan tattoo artists at work on the back of a man's legs is a rare treat. To encounter the traditional dances of Tuvalu, being performed not for an audience but for the community itself, in a closed circle, is another. The people of Kiribati had one of the few more politicised displays in their village - pointing out that global warming is destroying their homeland. In just five years, it is likely that this sovereign nation will be submerged. The world doesn't even seem to have noticed.

For me, the lesson of the day is to do with community engagement at the grass roots level. If we can find a way to harness the community spirit of Pacific people in London (and our current work with Ngati Ranana is definitely a move towards this) and to relate that to other communities, then we will be moving towards what Festival is all about. This doesn't mean losing sight of high culture - it means getting it to intersect with an audience which cares.

My final afternoon here was spent at the Mangere Arts Centre - a new space in the Pacific Island area of South Auckland. Many of the same issues are being tackled here: the manager tells me about her desire to get colourful images into the windows, so it stops looking like an institutional building, and people get the idea that it's a welcoming, creative space. Today it's being used to give a "trailer" to the Urban Pacific Festival in Hamburg, with whom we're intending to collaborate in some depth. It's a very interesting look at some work I would never have encountered otherwise. The added bonus is that Lemi Ponifasio of Mau is there, and we're able to talk again, continuing the dialogue we had when Peter introduced us in London a while ago. Lemi is very anxious that any engagement with Europe should be at an 'elite' level - because that's the only way you validate Pacific artists and overcome the old stereotyping. I can see his point - though, of course, it's very different from what I've just been saying.....

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