Informal Session: Gender in Contemporary Oceania Arts
Organizers: Jewel Castro (Art Dept. Messa College), Dan Taulapapa McMullin (Independent Painter and Writer), Pamela Rosi (Dept. of Anthropology, Bridgewater State College)

Meeting: Friday, February 10, 8:30 am - 5:30 pm (Dana Point)

Today, contemporary artists from Oceania and its diaspora communities image or perform gender through complex visions which embody traditional spirituality and social structures. In response to colonialism, globalization, and indigenous resistance to western hegemony, they also challenge new ideas of gender now impacting the lifestyles of Pacific Islanders and present new alternative ideas of gender to Western cultures.

Although cultures vary, gender in the Pacific has always expressed regeneration and sexuality as a social function to be performed according to one’s essence. The unfolding essence of being (Henri Hiro’s “te tupu ruperupe”) – life force – has traditionally defined the Oceanic world and been the conceptual basis from which much art has been re/generated. New Artists from Oceania, particularly from Aoteraroa-New Zealand, and the Samoan and Hawaiian Islands, are reinstating the force of this essence “te tupu” – the rising and flourishing essence of the life of Oceanic peoples, which crosses lines of gender while honoring and celebrating the interaction of gender differences.

In the 18th century, when the London Missionary Society was formed, the first place they sent their missionaries was Oceania - to Tahiti, shifting the Enlightenment’s Western perspective and imagery of the South Pacific from being a natural paradise to a paradise lost. In the early 20th century, influenced by Margaret Mead ’s romantic theories of South Seas sexuality as published in her book “Coming of Age in Samoa”, the Western image of paradise lost morphed again to a natural state of grace, re-establishing not an Oceanic perspective but another Western fantasy re-engraving popular perceptions of exotic islands of free love. Repositioning the Western mirror of Oceania from notions of “nature” and “grace”, from the self as removed from “nature” and in search of “grace”, new artists from the Pacific are re-appropriating and reframing these commentaries to invest them with meanings of their own.

While Contemporary Pacific artists are concerned with reclaiming their past and with it knowledge about gender meanings and gender relations, they are also vibrantly engaged with issues challenging and contesting gender roles, as Oceanic societies confront globalization and attempts at assimilation. But whatever these issues are, Pacific Islander artists want their imagery understood on its own terms and not through the eyes of others.

We have between 12-15 people wishing to contribute to our day-long session. Abstracts from confirmed participants will be circulated in January. Given these numbers, we expect to limit presentations to 20 minutes, including discussion.

We are also pleased to announce that the Pacific Islander artists in our session will exhibit their work and perform for the membership following the keynote speech on Thursday evening. Artists will also be displaying or showing slides or video clips of their work during our informal session. We welcome anybody who is interested in hearing artists speak about their work at this time.

Jewel Castro, 25350 Kerri Lane, Ramona, CA 92065 USA; tel (619) 388-2767 (ext.5480) or (760) 789-8853; e-mail <>

Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Laguna Niguel, CA. USA; e-mail

Pamela Rosi, Department of Anthropology, Bridgewater State College, 18 DonovanLane, Natick, MA 01760 USA; tel: 508-647-8166; fax 508-647-4050; e-mail <>