PACIFIC BODIES: TANU GAGO

On the occasion of ‘The Body Laid Bare: Masterpieces from Tate’, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki and British Council invited New Zealand artists of Pacific heritage to offer a counter-narrative to the themes of the exhibition.

Episodefive: Tanu Gago

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FEMSLICK | THE AFTERMATH

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It’s been six months since FAFSWAG delivered the work of emerging Pacific artist Akashi Fisiinaua for the stage. Entitled FEMSLICK this work played a significant roll in transforming the creative spaces FAFSWAG Arts Collective have been able to occupy. Typical impression for Pacific performing artist is that formal institutional spaces and commercial spaces are the same thing. While Basement Theatre operates as a public trust and trades under a commercial business model, the theatre actually allows for a lot of creative freedom for new and emerging artist to experiment and find their voices. This freedom is reflected in the way FEMSLICK was able to find a new audience but also establish for the artist involved a new practice for unconventional story telling and something akin to the authenticity of the streets where the culture and the world of FEMSLICK is cultivated.

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For a first attempt at trying to imbue Auckland’s underground Vogue culture with a theatrical premise and stage identity, FEMSLICK was definitely an ambitious project for first time director Akashi Fisiinaua and of course for FASWAG – a collective know more inextricably for it’s visual arts output than it’s theatre production. We had only recently, within the last 6 months prior to the production, established a series of very key game changes for the wider Vogue community in Auckland. 1) We transitioned the Ballroom scene from it’s suburban origins to it’s new home in Auckland’s CBD. 2) Akashi had stepped up from relative obscurity to play a pivotal role as the first ‘REAL’ chanter for our little but hugely disruptive scene. An ingredient that has been missing from the equation for a long time. 3) The visibility of the community went from zero a hundred in the space of a hot minute, thanks to internet and the prolific documentation of photographer and digital artist Jermaine Dean. 4) FAFSWAG established this weird social media exchange of Vogue Ball Promo Video’s and elevated the artistry of how you package particular club nights for this generation of Pacific Vogue Ball club kids. Every step in the process created fertile conditions for FEMSLICK to roll out into unknown territory and fuck it all up for good!!. And to be completely honest – that’s exactly what happened.

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Documenting our moves as artist is a staple of how FAFSWAG operates. We hooked up with VICE Australia to create a doco about FEMSLICK that ultimately went on to become a doco about the underground Vogue Community in Auckland. Something we are extremely proud of consider this movement failed to interest our own local media landscape in the five years we’ve been doing this shit. With the exception of the occasional fluff piece about Pacific religious rejection of gays or dancing fafa’s from the south-side. The acknowledgement of our community as a significant culture paradigm is something that for years continued to go over the top of peoples heads. Ironically the international attention of our small scene is was what shifted the local media landscape when it took outsiders supporting local diverse communities to tell their stories and on their own terms. FEMSLICK being the catalyst for all of it.

FAFSWAG is always the risky bet. The artist have blatant disregard for genre and they’re not interested in power sharing unless it’s with the underclasses. If you’re looking for a cute lil family friendly number then depending on the equity of the potential outcome to be mutually beneficially then you’re more likely to get the more than what you asked for. Its a simple philosophy but the artist in this collective are more interested in self determination than trying to fit the mold. Something that makes perfect sense when we consider how unknowingly FEMSLICK broke new ground for a production that was only really seeking to tell an authentic story.

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So what changed as a result of this show? Well…. FAFSWAG are now the theatre company in residence at Basement Theatre. With the first production in the series of seasonal shows being the debut production of FA’AAFA created by Pati Solomona Tyrell for the winter season. FEMSLICK creator the Banji C*nt herself – Akashi Fisiinaua has been offered some great emerging artist development opps and FAFSWAG has handed the Vogue Ball hosting reigns to the newly formed “Auckland Vogue Community” who are a community lead initiative of Voguers from all regions of Auckland. They hosted the Ratchet Ball at Family bar in May and are looking at holding down the scene with regular Vogue Jams, workshops, Vogue Knights and the occasional Vogue Ball. It’s open to all that are keen to play a leading roll in keeping the space warm and open for Niu blood. We’ve seen the community expand and become more inclusive and it’s pretty dope to see the other squads like the Bloodbath gurls come through. Something we’re really excited to see happen in the space. Now people can stop asking FAFSWAG artist if all they do is Vogue and the wider Vogue community can make a distinction that FAFSWAG is not the identity of the community.

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Of all the great spin off’s from this project the greatest has been figuring out what value looks like for not theatre practitioners operating within theatre. Especially when that value becomes something communities are able to leverage for themselves for their own desired outcomes. It seems pretty mini in the scheme of things but actually pretty radical considering how little leverage has been afforded to those same creatives before any of this.

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Clearly we weren’t the only people that had opinions about things. But if your looking for a balanced perspective on things you probably need to look somewhere else. Because these outside perspectives seem all to happy to agree with us lol. Shoutout to the artist and writers that bothered to publish their thoughts on the situation. Thank you x

SENSITIVE AND EMPOWERED LGBT PACIFIC STORIES Reviewed by Val Smith, 16 Feb 2017

Welcome to Our House: A Review of FEMSLICK – By Sam Brooks

Auckland creative collective FAFSWAG goes global in this must-see doco

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MANU VAEA | LOUD & QUEER!!

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FAFSWAG Artist Manu Vaea is an interdisciplinary artist that works in performance poetry and cultural activation. Among his many talents he is also an exceptional writer and illustrator. He likes to keep most situations really humble but you wouldn’t think that about his writing. it’s sharp and piercing and really not keen on apologies. lol His voice as an artist is one we’ve embraced into the collective as the perfect blend of critical guinsoo surgery and salty observational humour.

In March Manu will be joining his performance trio WITCH BITCH – including artist Sione Monu and Pati Solomona Tyrell for their first exhibition together at enjoy Public Art Gallery in Wellington. This is gonna be a mix of synchronized 3 channel video instillation and activation. .

This month Manu’s work will be featured in the stage production Loud & Queer for this years Auckland PRIDE Festival. We’re really excited to be sharing space with this hot production during Basement Theaters PRIDE season. FEMSLICK and LOUD & QUEER are garunteed to be the perfect solution to social sensory deporvation and Aucklands zzzzZZ night life. Make sure you come check out both shows as we share space and f*ck it up together.

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HERE’S YOUR SONG AND DANCE

 

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PRIDE Festival is a pretty new concept for some of us. Mostly because people live in bubbles that never burst. Some people are use to shrugging it off as just another “GAY thing for those gays”. The distinction being ‘those gays’ as if PI’s are culturally sheltered from such ungodly social blemishes and these things don’t exist in our culture. Just like marriage equality, Pacific people are either extremely ambivalent or morally adverse to open expressions of queerness. Colonisation is still a long way from being properly unpacked, undressed, re-purposed and gifted back to the settler colonialist that gave us organised monolithic religion, influenza, classic body shame, cheap imported  labour, beef off cuts and my personal fave – syphilis. The true minorities in this context are the number of Pacific people that love and support their gender and sexually diverse family members. (Something you rarely hear about)

But these are a mix of anecdotal surface logics. Occasionally people are indifferent to public programming because their circumstance prevent them from engaging. These issues become circumvented by festival directors who  will try to programme events that are free in order to remove economic barriers to engagement. But this doesn’t always guarantee participation and so enabling independent event producers on the ground, to bring their networks into the fold, is a strategy implemented at the earliest stages of audience development. It then becomes the challenge of a festival to develop organic ways to embed with communities ideologically. It’s this interaction that can create problems around representation, as a festival needs to maintain a broad scope for engagement.  Propelling the indigenous representation to the forefront of the festivals mass marketing power is one way that these things are compensated. This margin is sometimes the gap that causes cultural specifics to be disregarded or left behind, because an indigenous poster child doesn’t always translate to a meaningful platform. Just ask express magazine lol

16326407_1008520099278921_583679194_oFAFSWAG have been involved in different iterations of PRIDE over the past 4 years and seen inclusion and exclusion exercised in equal opposing measures. The idea of a regional initiative that holds ‘people’ at the heart of its purpose seems too good to be true. Especially for those of us entangled within social structures that feel engineered to achieve the opposite. How do people celebrate diversity when the priority is about living?  All the marketing in the world won’t shift these priorities. Civic identity is always emblematic of many of these attributes. You can see examples of this cultural disconnect echoed in the current transformation underway in Auckland’s CBD – The most livable city in the world.

There is simply a feeling that these improved civic spaces are set to improve the social mobility, productivity and general well being of a very particular group of people. This may very well include gender and sexually diverse people but most likely those of an economic status where the access and occupation of public space is purposely designed with their needs in mind. Meanwhile families in other parts of Auckland are trying to duck the shame of living out of their cars. It’s easy to say that there are no correlations between the disparities of low income Pacific minorities and their LGBTIQ families to the design of social space. But any one who grew up in Mangere with a liquor store and fast food takeaway on every corner has a totally different view of social planning and what Auckland Council thinks of their neighborhoods. These disparities are not experienced by the majority rendering them moot in a discourse about the ‘social responsiveness’ of a festival to demonstrate progressive social change. It’s like that blissfully ignorant expression that “you don’t know, what you don’t know” and why is it the social responsibility of a festival to push political agendas anyway?

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This is where PRIDE differs because the festivals origins have an umbilical attachment to homosexual law reform and the decriminalization of homosexuality in  1986 – which generated the political will to strive for rights for all people irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Those of us old enough to know this have fallen into two social subsets. Those that get to party and those still waiting for invitations. You can look to this moment and how it’s documented to see who the dominant voices belong to, and who, over the past 30 years of homosexual law reform have benefit from these progressive social movements and changes.

Despite law reform creating the perfect conditions to develop inclusive social policy it will be three decades before we see the emergence of adequate rainbow Pasifika services (If you can call them adequate!!!). Services that have emerged not purposefully -because someone gives a shit, but incidentally, so that ‘Susan’ the case manager at WINZ has an internal policy to govern her shitty attitude for mis-gendering Trans clients. This is always a back foot consideration and always in response to the lack of capacity within current mainstream health, social welfare and educational systems and frameworks. So regardless of what we can equate in theory to the discussion of state enforced policy and legislation, there is still a discussion of SPACE missing from this fucking conversation.

We can’t escape the political nature of our diversity. It is something we are bound to as indigenous LGBTIQ people of colour. But not always something we are all conscious of. In trying to avoid reducing this discussion to identity politics alone we have to talk about space. Space being the dimensions where these natures and plural context intersect with opposing forces and forge societal norms as well as the tensions required to break those norms and reshape them. But it requires that you show up to the party. Yes, the landscape is only now adhering to our needs. Yes, the political will among Pacific MP’s to push for improved social utility for Moana LGBTIQ peoples is abysmal. Yes the church still preaches hate and Yes toxic Masc for masc desires are still sold to young people on the daily.

You can guarantee that if left in the hands of the moral majority that the best you can expect for meaningful representation and meaningful inclusion is an A.T. commercial, reassuring South Auckland communities that there is still a faster way of getting to their commercial cleaning jobs in the CBD. Even today civic life is presented to some suburban audiences as a destination and not really a space to be occupied or filled with colour.

“I heard about PRIDE through word of mouth.. I thought it was gonna be like mardi gra but it was really white and seemed kinda bougie. I didn’t know there was such a thing as pride” – Akashi Fisiinaua / Tongan Performance Artist

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This is one of the challenges faced by Pasifika Festival almost every year. Diversity is assigned its calendar date and central location and people of Pacific heritage are spooned by the festival to broadcast their cultural codes through a measured and curated time and space. Sanctioned by local government our cultural politics are either simplified or removed entirely to maintain our quaint kiwi neutrality. This fragile paradigm keeping cultural tensions disoriented and distracted enough to make resistance manageable and have everyone drinking from the same Kool-Aid.

This threshold is always underpinning our showcasing of diversity. Not quite token but not quite holistic enough to acknowledge our own cosmologies. Especially in place of the western standard we’re all so attuned to. All of a sudden the bigoted Samoan MP’s adorn their rainbow flags and march in the parade, posturing in an election year. But when push comes to shove will still stand with their churches to take away your human rights. We saw these double standards play out when documenting Oceania Interrupted at the 2014 Pasifka festival. Protesters collided with Prime Minister John Key and his security detail, chaperoned by a festival director fully pressed and bothered by the protest and it’s derailing of Pacific focus toward awareness regarding the genocide in West Papua. His response was so typical….

“This is not the time or the place to talk about these issues, today is about celebrating Pacific culture as a city!!!”.

I watched as every news outlet and Pacific journalist began to turn their back on the story. In that instance the preservation of Pacific people as smiling dancing and singing island folk became more important than the truth. So now when the coconut media approaches FAFSWAG  for interviews we tell them to get fucked.

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These underlining tensions created by suppressed political resistance to cultural homogenization and massive social inequalities often foreshadow the moments when a festival is propagating false impressions of shared prosperity and mutual interest. It seeps into their marketing and their community engagement which at times feels like being asked to song and dance like performing monkeys, or worse – Performing MP’s. Communities respond accordingly with ‘disinterest and disengagement’. What’s most frustrating about these attitudinal responses is that it becomes OK to look away when you feel disconnected. And so nothing changes, and nothing moves, and those tired of standing still are left waiting for another moment in our history when a gathering critical mass can connect them to the possibility of progressive change, separate from their isolated daily hustle.

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There are no expectations that PRIDE will transform the lives of all. Least of all the lives of our most vulnerable – but it seems to be happy to try. It’s still too early to determine what this will look like but in short, the festival appears to have made space for its community’s historical face off with interventionist state violence and acknowledges some institutional and political struggle. This cant guarantee that GAYTM’S won’t get a bukaki paint job or that nondescript brown bodies won’t get the sexy splash treatment in the pages of your local gay media. But at least the narrative around LGBTIQ representation doesn’t have a gaping hole where it’s political will used to live. The treaty of Waitangi has been reintroduced into the constitution of the PRIDE organisation and Jaycee Tanuvasa and Sonya Apa Temata both sit on this year’s PRIDE board. These gestures are still for you to decide in value.

FAFSWAG has been trying to disrupt space for some time and we’re now looking at what it means to make space. For us this festival is an opportunity to achieve some of these things but it still requires long term vision and consistency. I guess our job now is not to remain docile. To make sure we play an active role in bursting those bubbles and ensure that the space we carve out in this civic festival counts. So while the Celebration rhetoric goes into over drive and the rainbows start poppin up all over the place and maybe even out of some people’s assholes. It’s important to remember that this isn’t just another ‘GAY thing for those gay people’. That the PRIDE you want is entirely up to you and that even though you’re circumstances and poly variety shopping list of complex social and cultural issues might isolate you from connecting with the festival. There are still spaces in the festival you can come to that are for people just like you. So when you’re out in the world Pick up a PRIDE GUIDE and make up your own damn mind!!!

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