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Locating the Asia Pacific in Brisbane

As a fairly recent migrant to Brisbane, I’ve recently become aware of a quaint Fortitude Valley exhibition space called Media Art Asia Pacific (MAAP).   I assumed from the name that this space specialised in Asian and Pacific arts.  Indeed, the organisation is a staunch advocate for contemporary and historic Asian arts (and rightly so).  Interestingly enough they also advocate some European and non-indigenous Australian artists.  But from what I gather, there are very few, if any, Pacific heritage artists associated with MAAP.

Frequently listing themselves as supporters of Asia-Pacific art, this blanket term is  problematic.  By using this, they commit a disservice to Pacific voices which are often overlooked.  Most importantly, they also evade the responsibility to specifically represent artists of Pacific heritage.

The ever-shifting Shangri-la* or the concept of the ‘Asia-Pacific’ can hardly be held responsible for a lack of representation in a gallery that boasts itself as a supportive organisation for ‘unmapped media art activity from Australia, Asia and the Pacific.’  AND THE PACIFIC.  The description of MAAPs ambitions are further unravelled by an ‘ongoing program of special international collaborations’, more specifically Europe and other international countries, also committing to ‘supporting Queensland artists…both locally and overseas’.  In basic terms, Media Art Asia Pacific literally focusses on everything but Pacific arts.  Leaning on the geographical term Asia-Pacific as an all-inclusive buzzword, without actually committing to supporting Pacific arts, demonstrates a failure on their part.  There is no shortage of contemporary Pacific artists, curators and writers and therefore no excuse for their low level of engagement.

Despite MAAP’s oversight of the Pacific region, some Queensland-based galleries are attempting to engage with the rapidly growing Pacific voice in Australia.  The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) consistently provides a platform for contemporary and historical Asian and Pacific arts.  In November, the QAGOMA will host the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial Contemporary Art (APT8) which features over 80 Pacific and Asian identifying artists.  Exhibitions of this magnitude offer an introductory insight into contemporary and historical Pacific arts.  The issue of ‘Asia-Pacific’ though, still remains, in the formulaic lumping together of the Asia-Pacific regions and concerns**.  The Asia-Pacific spans a gargantuan geographic region, so the assumption that we are one and the same is incorrect.

At this stage, the exposure of Pacific arts needs to grow exponentially to accommodate the demand for representation of a Pacific voice.  In Queensland alone, there are 67, 167 Pacific Island heritage citizens*** amongst a total population of 4.691 million.  By all means, Pacific people are still a minority in Brisbane, but the substantial number of Pacific residents need access to these platforms.

The specific viewpoint of Pacific artists is important to foster as these artists are interrupting Western modes of critique and making – crucial for generating critical discourse.  It seems Sydney and Melbourne are embracing Pacific arts.  Brisbane however seems to be slower to the punch but some light is seen at the end of the tunnel with exhibitions and efforts such as the APT8.  As a leading institution in representing Asian and Australian Arts, MAAP should be conscious that ‘Asia-Pacific’ is an outdated term that leaves significant margin for inequality.

Natasha Matila-Smith

*A fictional mythical Utopia first described in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon.  The allegory pertains to an ever-shifting and unattainable resolution.  Also referring to exoticism of the Orient.

**Asia-Pacific as a geo-political region, much better explained in this article here: http://peril.com.au/featured/who-are-we-beyond-imperfect-imposed-asia/

*** Tallied in a 2006 census.  Includes Maori, Melanesian and Polynesian people.

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