Old beliefs new interpretations – Samoan art now
A powerful sense of attachment to the past and place is evident in the creative expressions of Samoan artists. Images and objects draw attention to the forms and narratives of the Samoan people, which have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Interpretation of stories and culture can be contradictory for a history passed down via its oral traditions resulting in often multiple versions of the past. Still old beliefs, traditions and practices provide a rich source of inspiration for local and diasporic Samoan artists.
These artists examine their relationship with Samoa and almost reverently examine old beliefs while offering new interpretations for audiences today. Some artists assert their identity by incorporating traditional symbols, concepts, and narratives into their works based on their personal worldview. Many artists reinvent these concepts in new ways, therefore maintaining values and traditions from the past, which are linked to the present and the future.
For the artists their experiences create exciting, challenging tensions between the here and the there, the imagined nostalgic home of the past and the dayto-day reality of life in the present.
Emerging from these tensions are works that are intercultural, interdisciplinary and collaborative, and rich with context and connectivity.
It has been debated that in contemporary art today “location and place of origin matter less and less” although they are important. I believe location is immensely important in terms of the personal freedoms the artists experience inside of and outside of Samoa.
Freedom to think and create works without censorship is present in the works of artists who live in larger more cosmopolitan countries.
Topics openly discussed in other communities by Samoan artists such as domestic violence, colonialism, corruption, incest, nudity, religion, politics, sexuality, are difficult to discuss here in Samoa as they are perceived as taboo. Perhaps with current focus on domestic violence and rape and incest some of these currently taboo subjects will find a voice with contemporary artists.
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