Aitu, resin sculpture, 2010

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Chancellor's Committee on LGBTI Issues

Asian Pacific American Systemwide Alliance

Artist Statement

I am like a seabird going back and forth between two nests in North America and the Pacific Islands. I also live between the worlds of men and women as a Samoan fa'afafine our traditional category of sexual and gender liminality. And my artistic production alternates between narrative and imagery: the story in the portrait, the landscape in the poem.

Narrative and imagery are the instruments of my ideology of indigenous sovereignty. I can situate my positionality in colonized American Samoa through the dialectic of indigenous Caribbean/African-American sociologist Orlando Patterson of Harvard on the social death of the slave, where he identifies the three defining signs of the slave, and here by extension the colonized indigenous subject. These three signs are natal alienation, gratuitous violence, and general dishonor. They are manifested in Oceania by the United States through its elision of Samoan narrative, its military hegemony over the Pacific, and its white supremacy in contemporary culture.

When I was a small boy I gathered organic dye from the blood tree for my great grandmother Fa'asapa and grandmother Sisipeni to paint Samoan siapo or tapa barkcloth. I often stayed with my great grandmother Fa'asapa in a faletele: traditional Samoan roundhouse with breadfruit tree pillars, intricate ceiling of myriad rafters woven with coconut fibers, and floor of white coral shells rolled smooth by the surf. The art practice and narrative from the families of my parents, Lupelele and Samuelu, informs my work, which involves poetry, filmmaking and painting.

My latest work explores a relationship between pre-colonial Pacific Islander interpretations of the body and its narrative, and my own today. The Western interpretation of Oceania art, an interpretation which I am re-defining as well as operating outside of, has focused on its abstract visual methods. I, instead, begin with narrative, on the assumption that all abstract information in traditional Oceania art is performative and creative of a meta-body for the artist performer. I do not see these works as art as the West calls it, or even as spiritual, since both positions engage in a removal, are monotheistic and therefore colonial. Because my work researches outside the structure of Western culture, while searching within it, it is anti-colonial in a revolutionary position between nothingness and being.