|CURATORIAL STATEMENT: NAVIGATING QUEER PACIFIC WAVES, New Works by Jean Melesaine, Joy Enomoto & Jorge Manuel Gonzales|
Whatever we produce must not be a version of our existing reality, which is largely a creation of imperialism; it must be different, and of our own making. We should not forget that human reality is human creation. If we fail to create our own, someone else will do it for us by default. - Epeli Hau’ofa
Navigating Queer Pacific Waves is a multimedia exhibition featuring documentary photography, painting and mixed media works by lead artist Jean Melesaine along with artists Jorge Manuel Gonzales and Joy Enomoto. Taking the above quote by the Pacific Islander scholar, Epeli Hau’ofa, the exhibition seeks to explore the construction of queer Pacific Islander identity alongside historical narratives of colonial imperialism. Through their work, the artists reclaim queerness as an essential part of Pacific Islander culture and create new narratives by retelling their histories, both past and present in the struggle be the creators of their own representations.
As part of this project, Jean Melesaine and collaborating artist Fuifuilupe Niumeitolu profiled and interviewed individuals from the queer Pacific Islander community. The participants are from throughout the Oceanic region and urban diasporas and were chosen in an effort to highlight the diversity of the queer Pacific Islander experience. In Melesaine’s photographs, we see this range in the defiant portrait of a young Samoan woman from West Point, Evay, who survived a brutal shooting and in the charming smile of Kathy Jetnil, a writer from the Marshall Islands paying homage to her mother. We see the different roles that muha, or third gender individuals, play in their respective communities in the photographs of a sex worker laying in a Waikiki hotel room and of a teacher speaking to her students in Waimanalo, Oahu.
In Jorge M. Gonzalez’s installation located in the back project room, A Smile’s Closeted Death, we see the influence that dogmas and doctrines of the Mormon and Christian faiths have had on the suppression of queer identity and sexuality within this community.
Navigating Queer Pacific Waves challenges commonly held notions of Pacific Islander identity creating connections between different peoples and Oceanic cultures. Through this interconnectivity the hope is to eliminate the divisive issue of homophobia rampant in Pacific Islander communities and reassert the role of queerness as an essential part in the healing and wellbeing of these communities.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Navigating Queer Pacific Waves is made possible by Galería de la Raza’s GINAA Artist fund program (Grantwriting for Indigenous and Native American Artists), a capacity-building and small grants program serving Native American and Indigenous artists from the Americas and the Queer Cultural Center’s Healthy Communities program. Galeria’s GINAA program is made possible with the support of the Native American Arts and Cultural Traditions Program of the San Francisco Arts Commission and the Queer Cultural Center of San Francisco. Galería de la Raza’s programs are made possible by the generous support of: The San Francisco Arts Commission; Grants For the Arts/Hotel Tax Fund; The California Arts Council, a state agency; the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency; The James Irvine Foundation; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; the National Association for Latino Arts and Culture - NALAC Fund for the Arts/Nescafé Clásico; The San Francisco Foundation, The Zellerbach Family Fund; and Galería members and individual donors.