It was fun to go down to the 'Atenisi Institute in Nuku'alofa yesterday and crash a lecture Maikolo Horowitz was giving for his paper on European Art and Politics in the Nineteenth Century.
Maikolo was chanting the virtues of Paul Gauguin when I turned up and tried to turn the tide of opinion by reciting a Selina Tusitala Marsh poem with the refrain 'Gauguin, you piss me off'. Marsh charges Gauguin with treating the Pacific as the 'erogenous zone of the world', and with depicting Polynesian women as languorous, lustful, and brainless creatures.
Maikolo was prepared to concede that some of Gauguin's paintings had promoted certain wearying stereotypes of Polynesian life, stereotypes perpetuated today by cruise ship art galleries and tourism brochures, but he insisted that the man had far more to offer than this sort of veve, and brought my attention to the painting 'The Sorcerer of Hiva Oa', the depiction of pagan magic in the fin de siecle Marquesas that became a goldmine for anthropologists and ethnographers wanting to reconstruct the pre-Christian culture of those islands.
Look at that magician, Maikolo urged, and his slyly defiant attitude to the Frenchman painting him. A German anthropologist visiting 'Atenisi, a pentecostal minister studying there, and my 2013 student Alokoulu Ulukivaiola, who is using 'Atenisi as a base as he works on a series of documentary films, all joined in the talanoa, and I found myself dissenting from Marsh's judgment and pardoning at least part of Gauguin's oeuvre.
Critical thinking is a wonderful thing, and I'm pleased to find it alive and kicking at 'Atenisi.