A journey towards the outside starts from within
This is the first exhibit of contemporary Polynesian indigenous art to take place outside of French Polynesia. Manava opened in December 2014 at the WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles. This exhibit was conceptualized by the Centre des Métiers d’Art (Center for Careers in Art), which is an art school located in Papeete. Here is an account of this adventure.
Assimilating French Polynesian cultural, aesthetic and ethical values
“What is our rapport with history and how can we consider the issue of our cultural representation today?” is the rallying question French Polynesian artist Alexander Lee asks. He collaborated with students and teachers of CMA during workshops he conducted at the school.
“Manava marks the beginning of a new phase in the cultural and artistic fabric of French Polynesia. The world is changing and we must shift along with it, starting with re-examining ourselves, our relationship with the world and the signs with which we represent ourselves to the world. This is a journey towards the outside that starts from within: MĀNAVA!” Viri Taimana, the Director of the Centre des Métiers d’Art – Te Pu Haapiiraa Toroa Rima i passionately explains. Created in 1980, the CMA offers a curriculum that revisits history and French Polynesian cultural heritage through sculpture, engraving, drawing, painting, weaving, photography, video and installation projects.
Although it resonates like a word of welcome, Manava is above all the word for the gut, the stomach, the Polynesian belly, which is where the seat of emotions is located, where consciousness reigns. CMA’s contemporary art exhibits, such as Manava, reveal themselves as introspections—specific views of French Polynesia that offer an itinerary into a Polynesian world fully immersed into the 21st century. These introspections establish the existence of contemporary indigenous Polynesian thought surrounding visual arts. Polynesian artists question their society as well as their immersion and participation in the world.
When the contemporary art of Manava was exhibited at the Musée de Tahiti et des îles in 2013, it crossed a major threshold. Its message of a living artistic culture was positively received by the museum, a public institution in French Polynesia that strives to preserve the ancient heritage. The contemporary works of Manava are inscribed as an extension of the ethnological collections of the museum. Each created piece of art is at once an act of restitution and transmission. As such, the arts allow the regeneration and diffusion of French Polynesian heritage while preserving characteristics that are passed down and that integrate the crucial evolution of cultural heritage.
The conceptual power behind the works of Manava did not slip by Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, Assistant Dean of the School of Architecture at Woodbury University and Director of the WUHO Gallery (Woodbury University Hollywood Outpost), located on the prestigious Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. She visited the exhibit in Tahiti for an experimental media workshop at CMA. This workshop was organized in partnership with Woodbury and CMA students (an exchange that began in 2010). Consequently, Wahlroos-Ritter invited the Manava show to the WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles for December 2014.
The contemporary works created for Manava reflect an assimilation of French Polynesian cultural, aesthetic and ethical values. These values stem from individual expression influenced by a local collective memory connected to ways of life, the environment and the conditions of the existence of a cultural heritage. The culture brings together a collection of perspectives transmitted from generation to generation. This is done through orality, the written word, gestures, audio-visual means or by any other way in relationship to the arts, technique, expertise, daily life and the acknowledged value of collective events from ancient and contemporary times. The creation of contemporary art allows Polynesians to recognize themselves in the art in a way that gives them a sense of identity and continuity.
– A Manava II exhibit is scheduled to take place at the Musée de Tahiti in Octobre 2016, and will show in the WUHO Gallery (and beyond) in 2017.
– Air Tahiti Nui is Manava’s official sponsor and transport for its international tour.