Like pigments painted onto bark-cloth tapa, ta tatau dyes incised into flesh or tivaevae threads stitched onto cloth, Pacific patterns permeate tissue offering lasting symbols of mana and identity. In this way intangible elements of culture are made physical. However, these symbols of identity draw power from a deeper source. Language, customs, ritual and kinship―these are some of the intangible ingredients that bind communities and strengthen identity from within. Without the people, these forms of material culture simply exist as aesthetic objects. In his most recent series of paintings Graham Fletcher locates some of these displaced Pacific art objects adorning the walls of plush modernist interiors, presenting what Fletcher describes as a domestic cultural eclecticism or ‘lounge room tribalism’.
Objects of this nature can be seen in Museums, Galleries and private collections across the globe. Enclosed in glass cases and cabinets of curiosity, or sprawled across the walls like big game trophies, such displays present indigenous art and objects as anthropological antiquities. This type of display traces its origins during the Renaissance period in the wunderkammer, or wonder rooms, of the aristocracy and affluent who amassed and housed huge collections of art, archaeology, antiquities and science. Encountering a wunderkammer of sorts in a small bungalow in central Auckland, Fletcher felt the need to paint these spaces where so called ‘authentic primitive’ art objects are displayed as indications of style, class and culture―in a sense re-creating his own wunderkammer of collected objects of Western fancy.
In his doctoral exegesis Fletcher makes note of the fashionable trend amongst Surrealist artists during the 1920s–1930s to collect indigenous art objects and create concept spaces within their homes, facilitating a cross-cultural intermingling between Western and non-Western forms of material culture. For Fletcher these spaces suggested complex relationships of assimilation, resistance and interdependence. In his paintings Fletcher re-imagines this period of dynamic cultural interaction, questioning why and how these objects symbolising indigenous culture and identity were able to make the remarkable conceptual shift to become statements of Western culture and sophistication.
Lounge Room Tribalism asks what is the purpose of indigenous material culture if it is taken away from the people? How do such objects operate outside of their customary cultural context, and if these taonga simply exist as aesthetic objects does that add or detract from their inherent cultural value?
2 July – 31 July
Deane Gallery, City Gallery, Wellington< BACK TO LISTINGS