Karakeni Nani: Creating spaces for learning


The phrase ‘Karakeni Nani’ comes from the Nasioi language spoken in the Kieta district of the province of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. ‘Kara’ means to talk while ‘Keni’ refers to binding a person, animal or object of value with rope. ‘Nani’ is the important role of female speakers and their perspectives. Together, ‘Karakeni Nani’ describes an agreed meeting place where matrilineal leaders lead conversations around a shared vision that brings people together through the acts of sharing, listening and talking.1

Past exhibitions such as ‘No. 1 Neighbour’ and ‘APT9’ have provided QAGOMA Learning with contexts to directly engage with Pasifika students and create a space at the Gallery where they can connect with their cultures. ‘APT10’ and ACAPA’s Community Engagement (ACE) Project was a distinct opportunity to work closely with Pasifika community to design onsite programming for young people.

Participants and facilitators in the ‘Karakeni Nani: Women’s Wealth Workshop’, March 2022 / Photograph: C. Callistemon © QAGOMA

In early 2022, QAGOMA Learning with the support of the Pacific Art curatorial team, reached out to the Pasifika Women’s Alliance (PWA) with an idea to build on their previous involvement in ACE, which focused on engaging Pasifika families in intergenerational learning spaces. Together with PWA, we were able to develop a program where students could engage with art, culture and story.

35 female Pasifika students from Bellbird Park State Secondary College, Earnshaw State College and Mabel Park State High School were invited to take part in a full-day program at GOMA. Together with PWA and Ruth McDougall, Curator, Pacific Art, we explored works by Pasifika artists in ‘APT10’ including the Seleka International Art Society Initiative, ‘Air Canoe’ and ‘Uramat Mugas’, before taking part in two workshops facilitated by PWA: mwar mwar (flower crown) weaving with Inca Chow and tok stori (spoken word) with Vanessa Gordon.

Vanessa Gordon speaks to students about works in APT10 / Photograph: C. Callistemon © QAGOMA
Mwar mwar (flower crown) weaving / Photograph: C. Callistemon © QAGOMA

After the program, we asked the participants, as well as their teachers and PWA to reflect on the experience and share with us what it meant to connect young Pasifika people with art and ideas.

Art objects are a powerful expression of culture and identity that carry the stories of their makers far from home. It is a meaningful experience for young Pasifika students to see their cultures represented on the walls of GOMA. Vaoafi Hart, PWA Secretary, explained, ‘The Gallery, in showcasing the diversity of the Pasifika region, is a place where young kids can gain an appreciation of not only their own culture, but also that of their friends and neighbouring cultures.’ For many, this was their first time visiting a gallery and the program motivated them to want to know more about art and culture. ‘I liked everything about today and how we experienced and learnt about other cultures besides our own’, reflected one of the students.

Students viewing ‘Air Canoe’ in APT10 / Photograph: C. Callistemon © QAGOMA

But it is also about people. One of the students shared: ‘This program was really fun. I met other women who look like me from the Pacific. I can’t wait for the next one!’. ‘Being able to see people who look like us, talk like us, and feel the same way as us is really important,’ explained PWA President, Iree Chow, ‘It’s all to do with having a sense of identity and being able to feel connected with the places we are from.’

Part of developing that sense of identity is making space for conversation with Elders, where young people who belong to diaspora communities can ask the question, ‘Where am I from?’. Those conversations prompted students to find out more about their own family stories and backgrounds. Wally Ropati, Community Liaison Officer, Bellbird Park State Secondary College noted that ‘to be able to listen, learn, make something and have a conversation about who they are and what their culture means to them was very inspiring.’

We can build our knowledge and understanding of the importance of spaces for cultural learning by working in close collaboration with community and embracing opportunities for shared experiences. Through our ongoing relationship with PWA, we hope to provide more opportunities for young Pasifika people to see the Gallery as a place of connection.

Rebecca Smith is Program Officer, Education and Curriculum Programs, QAGOMA

1 Pasifika Women’s Alliance, ‘Culture & Art: Karakeni Nani | Asia Pacific Triennial Exhibition (APT10)’, <https://pasifikawomensalliance.com/culture-art/>, accessed July 2022.

Earnshaw State College students with Vaoafi Hart, PWA Secretary / Image courtesy: Leigh Korbatits


Family ties


Our family relationships shape who we are and who we will become. Through photography, painting, wearable art, sculpture and installation, the young artists of ‘Creative Generation 2022’ consider the influences of family on their identity in contemporary society.

‘The natural instinct when we are growing up is to shy away from family traditions’, reflects Creative Generation artist Marley Russell — ‘to forge our own paths in the world as individuals’. Mixed-media work Interconnected 2021 (illustrated) features a portrait of her grandmother and mother, as well as a self-portrait and collaged family photos, inspired by her research into genetic memory. She concludes that, inevitably, ‘some elements from our family stay with us in the pursuit of identity’. In Caged Bird 2021 (illustrated), Ezra Singh uses his father as the subject to explore feelings of being trapped. For Singh, the photograph represents his relationship with his father, the double portrait symbolising ‘the duality of his support for me but the expectations that trail with it’.

Marley Russell / Highfields State Secondary College / (Inter-)connected 2021 / Synthetic polymer paint and collage on board / © Marley Russell
Ezra Singh / Lockyer District State High School  / Caged Bird 2021 / Digitally manipulated photograph on paper / © Ezra Singh

Other artists use their family stories to define themselves. Jahla Harvey’s video Sailing the Wind 2021 projects photographs of her family onto a boat, representing memories of trips home to Waiben (Thursday Island). ‘Sustaining the stories of the past is very important to me’, says Harvey. ‘It helps me stay connected to where I come from.’ The importance of connecting to family through story is also emphasised in Jaeve Proberts’s work, Apii Warukara; Kalkadoon language meaning Songlines 2021. The piece was inspired by time Proberts spent sharing stories with her aunty, an experience that highlighted the disconnection she felt with the past, but also the reconnection her family were working for in the present. Aiyana Matenga’s series of photographs titled ‘Who are you?’ 2021 explores the separation she feels from her Indigenous heritage, using empty picture frames to symbolise the impact of the Stolen Generations on her family’s identity and connection to culture. Although facing challenges in uncovering her family’s story, the artist reflects: ‘we can never really forget who we are’.

Charlotte Peachey / Redlands College / Settler 2021 / Mixed media installation (crocheted raffia suit and digital photograph on gloss paper) / © Charlotte Peachey

The influence of family can also be found in the smaller, quieter moments within works. Bridget Kent’s toothsome installation Sweet times ahead 2021 embodies the artist’s aspirations to become a pastry chef. Incorporated into Kent’s sugar-cookie sculptures are the signature decorative patterns of porcelain plates — a reference to the artist’s grandmother, from whom she inherited a love of baking. Similarly, in Settler 2021 (illustrated), Charlotte Peachey uses the crochet skills learnt from her grandmother to recreate heirloom items of clothing, passed down through generations, and to reflect on traditions preserved and lost. Instead of using cotton or wool, her garments are constructed from raffia ‘to create a metaphor of how practices, family and culture are closely intertwined’. Peachey explains that the work ‘touches on the complexities of my European past with the Indigenous land that my family and I occupy’.

Family and identity are enduring themes in each year’s iteration of ‘Creative Generation’. However, this selection of works represents a deeper consideration of the meaning of family. From interpersonal relationships to the importance of intergenerational story, to the sharing of knowledge and traditions, these young artists reflect on how family shapes our identity and our understanding of the world around us.

Rebecca Smith is Program Officer, Education and Curriculum Programs, QAGOMA
This article was originally published in the QAGOMA Members’ magazine, Artlines, no.1, 2022

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‘Creative Generation 2022’ is at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) from 28 May until 21 August 2022.

The Creative Generation Excellence Awards in Visual Art is an initiative of the Queensland Department of Education, supported by QAGOMA and QSuper.