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Poly Typical at Fresh Gallery Otara

Anchored by a very simple and no doubt overlooked statement, the strength of its conviction is in the detail. Described as ‘Reframing the Pacific experience for a new generation’, Poly Typical  is never once described as an exploration of Pacific gender and sexual identities. Colonised by language, there is power in silence.

This is the most important statement of the show. A gesture that allows the works to hold their own truths; something they do so well. The honesty is overwhelming and their presence speaks volumes.

As an audience we are offered a space to contemplate and room to breathe. At the same time we are held accountable for our prejudices. A beautifully executed balance.

I found myself with the portraits lining the gallery walls, familiar faces in an unfamiliar space. Never quite able to escape my own presence in the room, the glass that sits within these frames divides us yet at the same time bonds us. I am haunted by the reflection that stares back at me. A subtle reminder of the importance in acknowledging both our individual and shared histories.

I am reminded of a recent occasion when I was asked about my heritage. Knowing little about my exact roots I simply explained that it was not something which I had spent too much time thinking about. With blonde hair, blue eyes and a last name that rolls off the tongue after a pint of Guinness it is not something which I am easily able to distance myself from. Walking through the gallery space I was so achingly aware of my own privilege, my place in a hierarchy that engulfs gender and sexual minority communities. I choose to identify as queer knowing all too well that language acts without consent. The echoing stories throughout, are not my own.

The subtleties are what I come back to in the days since my visit. On reflection that I think through the complexities of the only sculptural piece in the gallery space; Luisa Tora’s GBTQI. This all too familiar acronym has been an ever present part of my life for the past ten years and it is only on second glance I notice that the letter L is missing. A simple gesture that comes with huge historical significance, a nod to the past and a plea in the present. Blocking a thoroughfare at the front of the gallery, it demands acknowledgement.

The title references a community unified by a shared oppression but I question just how collective our experiences are. We find ourselves in a problematic situation; in attempts to stand unified we operate under an umbrella of one community, continuing to hold on to this notion appears counterproductive. This is a notion the artists of Poly Typical are all too aware of. We have found ourselves situated within a system that acts to define us and so we position ourselves. Yet, the claim we make determines our trajectory.

Possibly the most groundbreaking show I have encountered in a long time, I am very aware of just how much I have left unsaid. Just as Poly Typical so clearly demonstrates, sometimes it is in those silences that we find our own voice.

Sarah Murphy

Mahia Jermaine Dean | Mario Faumui | Todd Karehana | Moe Laga | Molly Rangiwai McHale | Amanaki Prescott-Faletau | Jaycee Tanuvasa | Luisa Tora | Pati Solomona Tyrell | Peter Williams

Curated by Tanu Gago

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