Friday, April 22, 2016

The sorcerer

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.


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11:13 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I've been keen on Gauguin since a teenager. I read 'The Moon and Sixpence' by Gauguin. I loved all Maugham's books and stories that I read. That said, the criticism of Gauguin has some validity. Or is it the ethos we are concerned with?

He himself was in conflict with the over-restrictive church.

For me he adds a deep mysteriousness to the women of (despite reading about his etc I've just forgotten which Island he went to! I am sure it must have been Tahiti, I usually google at this point but I'll leave this on the assumption I was right). Polynesian women. His attraction wasn't only the erotic. It was a lot, but his art adds something deeper which evades any direct critical analysis. Maugham romanticizes Gauguin who he calls Strickland. (Memory worked for me there.)

Gauguin was not a sociologist. He was not the only European to fall in love with the islands and their women. Banks philandered in Tahiti and other places (Cook was more reserved): but the women liked him, as did most people who he met, despite his 'more upper class' origins. He was more extroverted than Cook.

It could be argued that everyone should stay at home: but colonialism and its evils and benefits (if any) are almost universal in the world. Almost every nation has experienced this.

But looking at his art. Gauguin is certainly, for me, one of the great artists.

Good there was a discussion: I know (some of) the "bad" sides of Gauguin, but he isn't responsible for the entire evils of European colonization.

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4:31 am  
Anonymous Maikolo said...

Mapster Skyler is a true scholar, as his mind is perennially open to counterpoint. As for Gauguin, in addition to anthropological art sampled here, he was relentlessly anti-colonial and anti-clerical in Polynesia [v. Emile Gauguin's foreword to the Intimate Journals of Paul Gauguin at p. ix].

9:19 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I think he resented the way the Church in Tahiti etc laid down the law and supplanted what they considered to be a "primitive" society for their superior, decent, religious one. Which it wasn't by any means: England, France, Germany were riddled with corruption. The lives of the average European could well have been shorter in many cases, due to the poorer conditions of living and the general ignorance of the medical people. That changed, but the arrogant supplanting of Tahitian and other Polynesian ways of life and belief was a form of a "holocaust" on its own.

The Mormons appear to have a lot of money. What many of these religos want is to buy your soul, and run your mind. Once that happens their income is assured. They have you because they have "saved you" (which is nonsense, it is a lot of mumbo jumbo they peddle) and they then have you in their pocket. Added to that are the is like a re-rerun of the battles in Europe between the aristocracy and their competing religions and alliances. The people gained little from it.

The temptation the Church offers are "sugar-coated bullets" to quote Mao tse Tung. This is the beginning of the end. They either shoot you, bash you with their bibles, or bribe...

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8:54 pm  

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