Celebrated Indigenous Hawaiian artist Carl Pao is taking new ideas about the Pacific and committing them to canvas, painting a visually stunning and colourful mural at The Australian National University.
Mr Pao, the inaugural Pacific Studies Artist in Residence at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said the mural was inspired by what young Pacific Islander students had to say about their region and heritage as well as questions surrounding Pacific identities.
“We tried to shed our preconceived ideas about what ‘Pasifika’, or the Pacific, means,” said Mr Pao. “We discussed each island group and thought about their unique identities relating back to their place of origin. From that we started to think about grander, sweeping elements within the Pacific like ocean, wind, and current, and not only how those tie the mural together but how they have tied us together over the generations.
“We were also inspired by Aboriginal Australian artwork and its use of aerial maps. We have developed a rough map of the Pacific stretching from Australia in the south all the way to Rapa Nui in the east and Hawaii in the north. Like Indigenous Australian paintings, the artwork has many pathways, connections and parallel lines. And like the star or constellation maps used by Pacific Islanders for navigating in the past, the artwork is a map of somewhere for us to head towards.
“Overall, the artwork celebrates the unique differences of the Pacific’s many cultural groups as well as the things that bring us together. The final work will be this large composition which is, hopefully, stunning from a distance and draws your attention. Once you get up to it, the viewer can engage with it more intimately and see the little subtleties of the different groups represented in it.”
Mr Pao is painting the mural at the University today and tomorrow. The finished artwork will be mounted at the ANU Farea Pasifika office. A visual arts teacher at the elite Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, Carl Pao’s work in painting, print-making and sculpture has been displayed in North America and Europe, including the Smithsonian Institute National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC.
The Pacific Studies Artist in Residence is hosted by the ANU equity and outreach program Pasifika Australia, the ANU Pacific Studies program and an Australian Research Council Laureate project held by ANU professor Margaret Jolly.