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The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 600-603

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Book Review

Art and Performance in Oceania

Art and Performance in Oceania, edited by Barry Craig, Bernie Kernot, and Christopher Anderson. Honolulu and Bathurst, nsw: University of Hawai'i Press and Crawford House Publishing, 1999. ISBN 0-8248-2283-8; viii + 318 pages, illustrations, photographs, notes, bibliography. US$48.

At the end of the introduction of Art and Performance in Oceania, Barry Craig, as coeditor, advises that the book has been divided into four parts. This division was made "according to the editing task," but it falls in line [End Page 600] with the traditional division of Oceania into culture areas. Anticipating criticism for this arrangement, Craig attempts an apology for it. But there was no need, for there was no better way of arranging the book. Part 1 is devoted to Polynesia, except for one paper on Micronesia. Part 2 addresses Australia, and Part 3 is concerned with Melanesia. Part 4 deals with issues of contemporary art and performance in Oceania.

The Micronesia and Polynesia papers are concerned with identity, sociocultural change, and sociopolitical order. Identity surfaces in all of the papers in this section, particularly those by Karen Stevenson, Bernie Kernot, and Regina Meredith. Concern with identity relates to how outsiders perceived Pacific Islanders in the past, how they perceive them at present, and how they should relate to them in the future. This is clearly Kernot's interest in "Imaging the Nation: The New Zealand International Exhibition 1906-07 and the Model Maori Pa." At the same time, there is also interest in how Pacific Islanders perceive themselves, as raised in Meredith's paper on art education and Samoan identity and Stevenson's on Tahiti and the sixth Pacific Arts Festival.

Vilsoni Hereniko's and Kenishi's discussions are part of the sociocultural change issue, but they concentrate more on the sociopolitical order. Not only do they tell us about some of the traditional mechanisms of maintaining social or political order, but they also tell us that some of these mechanisms are at work in maintaining the status quo in present sociopolitical systems. Whether it is the symbolism of dance in Yap or the role of clowns in Polynesia, these mechanisms still have a place in the sociopolitical culture of the Oceania region.

The six papers in Part 2 concern the role of museums, exhibits, and indigenous artists in a changing society. These particular issues are local to Australia, but also have universal implications.

Vincent and Ruth Megaw initiated an artists-in-residence program at Flinders University, Adelaide, in 1978. Their paper reviews the program, highlighting its successes, difficulties, and accomplishments. They proudly report that the program has created very strong links between the university, Aboriginal communities, and the artists. Brenda Croft's "Speaking as the 'Other'" is concerned with the marginalization of some indigenous art as non-Aboriginal and its classification as "second rate 'white' art." Living and working as an artist in Sydney, she argues that Aborigines and Aboriginal art do not have to come from the deserts of Central Australia. Juno Gemes shows the importance of photography for Aboriginal people. She urges indigenous people to see the value of establishing photographic collections, which may be very useful to them.

The important issue of the impact of museums on their audiences' thinking or worldviews, is addressed by Deane Fergie in her paper "Racism and the State: Critical Reflections on the Organisation of Heritage Institutions in South Australia." While many of us are often not aware of it, how museum displays and exhibitions are organized greatly determines the ways we perceive cultures and peoples. She clearly shows this by comparing the displays of the History Trust of South Australia and the South Australia [End Page 601] Museum. The former, by displaying photographs of historically important persons, portrays humanities. The latter, on the other hand, displays artifacts and even some natural objects, formulating a closeness of non-European cultures to nature.

Chris Anderson's paper, "Old Galleries, New People," addresses the need for museums and galleries to adapt to modern circumstances and...


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