Piha, Tāmaki Makaurau, 2020. Courtesy of Lana Lopesi.
“Colonialism produced the fictional worlds of Oceania staked out imaginatively in varied shades of attractiveness and repulsiveness by early European writers…”
- Silafau Professor Sina Mary Theresa Vaʻai, "Chapter 1: Ways of Seeing," Literary Representations in Western Polynesia: Colonialism and Indigeneity, Āpia: The National University of Sāmoa | Iunivesite Aoao o Sāmoa, 1999, p.19.
Dr Lana Lopesi
Sometimes texts unexpectedly find you, as if the cosmos knew you needed it at that given moment. The words on those pages are a necessary salve. That’s exactly how my introduction to the words of Sina Mary Theresa Vaʻai happened – accidentally. I was asked to scan a text as part of my tasks as a research assistant. I grabbed the book waiting for me in my supervisor’s office without thinking, but as I was scanning it, I knew I had found something important. Literary Representations in Western Polynesia: Colonialism and Indigeneity is based on Vaʻai’s PhD thesis which was submitted in December 1995 to the University of Canberra. In it, Vaʻai discusses Indigenous literatures from the Moana in their full power as decolonial imaginaries.
To help us understand the full power of Pacific literature, Vaʻai first canvases the impact of “imperial eyes” over the region, a searing articulation that had resounding impacts on my own thinking through the colonial imaginary, a force so perverse that, without awareness, seeps into our very pores. According to Vaʻai, colonialism and post-colonialism impacted on the Pacific, but affected a “quest by Pacific Islanders for new, post-colonial, cultural identities and liberation from the 'pasts' of conformity.”
Like many of us who think with art or any kind of materialism, Vaʻai thinks with literature, and in this context she observes emancipatory potentials through forms that exist far beyond the written word. She writes, “Pacific literature had its genesis in the need that Islanders felt to address the legacy and impact of colonialism – to liberate and understand themselves in the rapidly-changing world of decolonisation.” Vaʻai’s precise and critical reading of the liberatory potential of Pacific literatures offers an important lens through which to think about the magnitude of our own creative expressions across the ocean.
Silafau Professor Sina Mary Theresa Vaʻai, “Chapter 1: Ways of Seeing,” Literary Representations in Western Polynesia: Colonialism and Indigeneity, Āpia: The National University of Sāmoa | Iunivesite Aoao o Sāmoa, 1999.
Chapter 1: Ways of Seeing is reproduced with permission of the National University of Sāmoa | Iunivesite Aoao o Sāmoa and author Silafau Professor Sina Mary Theresa Vaʻai.
© 2022 Lana Lopesi. Text and image may not be used without permission of UQ Art Museum or the authors. Image courtesy of Lana Lopesi.
Dr Lana Lopesi
Dr Lana Lopesi (Sāmoa) is an author, art critic, editor and multidisciplinary researcher based in Tāmaki Makaurau. Since 2012 Lana has published extensively on New Zealand art and culture in local and international publications including Metro magazine, the Pantograph Punch, Bulletin, Art New Zealand, the Spinoff, Paperboy, among many others. Her writing has also been included in books such as Routledge Companion to Art in the Public Realm, Crafting Aotearoa (Te Papa Press) and Say Something: Jacqueline Fahey (Christchurch Art Gallery). In 2018 Lana published her debut book False Divides (BWB Texts), in 2019 she co-edited the book Transits and Returns (Vancouver Art Gallery; Institute of Modern Art) and in 2021 published the essay collection Bloody Woman (BWB).