Conser.VĀ.tion|Acti.VĀ.tion Museums, the Body and Indigenous Moana Art Practice
This study explores the performative body based on the Samoan concept of vā (reciprocal and sustained relational space) to develop tools for current museum practice related to the Moana Pacific. It focuses particularly on the museum practice of conservation and puts Moana Indigenous ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies at the centre of creative research. The study engages with how a Moana artist can collaborate with museum archives, to create new works from the collections and to keep warm and nurture the connections between communities and museum measina (treasure). The questions explored in the research begin with my entanglement as an artist and maker of works acquired by the museum, and the manner in which the museum operates in keeping those works alive and present within a network of vā relations.
The resulting uneasy narrative of exchanges and entanglements is the basis of this study. It addresses the following questions: First, how do museum professionals working with Moana artists and their material culture treat Indigenous modes of ‘thinking and being’? Second, how can the mana (prestige and authority) of Indigenous Moana arts and culture be recharged and experienced in contemporary museum and exhibition spaces? Third, how can the mauli (life force) of measina (treasures) be made present and be acknowledged in archives, and how might it be maintained? Finally, how can an embodied contemporary art and performance practice recharge measina and ensure that collections are not locked in the past?
By working through these questions, this creative practice-led study foregrounds Indigenous ways of being and knowing through the body to reinvigorate and revive museum-based Pacific collections. It deploys the Samoan concept of vā to explore the Vā Body as an activator of mauli and vessel for past, present, and future; to activate new forms and narratives in the museum; and to develop a methodology to inform and influence a museum conser.VĀ.tion ethic.
The study advances the notion that activating the mauli of measina in museum and archival spaces requires acknowledging the network of relations that artefacts are connected to. The vā and relational artefacts’ existence is channelled through gafa (genealogy) and many dimensional beings that each measina inhabits and carries, articulated as the Vā Body.