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.
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.
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.
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.