Sunday, March 31, 2013

Research Trip to the French Polynesia

In a little over a week, I am going on a research trip to the French Polynesia as part of my grant project for the Minnesota Artist Initiative Grant. The purpose of the trip is to gather information by taking photos, making sketches, and talking with Polynesians about their culture, history, and political struggles. I will be hiking through valleys to hidden waterfalls, climbing up mountains, kayaking to outer motu's and exploring making notations about flora. It is a place that has embodied a sense of romantic, exotic wonderment for Westerners for over 300 years and has some of the most beautiful islands in the entire world. I became interested with the country with respect to my work when I learned about it's past of nuclear testing and the tension with the French government still controlling the country. It also contains the most important Polynesian archaeological sites outside of Easter Island. The marae ruins that are all over the islands are thought to be such very dark and spiritual places that Polynesians refuse to re-enact past rituals. Also, I am interested in how the rising acid and temperature of the ocean is effecting the coral life around one of the most secluded places on the planet. 

 *Photo: Tahiti Tourisme 

The trip will be 33 days ad I will visit 6 different islands: Moorea 5 days, Huahine 7 days, Raiatea 6 days, Bora Bora 3 days, Tahiti 5 days, and Nuku Hiva 7 days. Each island was picked for landscape and cultural significance. I am grateful for the length of time because it will give me the time to get to know each island (with the exception of Bora Bora but it is just a resort play-land and the island itself is so small you can bike around it in less then 2 hours) and explore without using expensive tour groups that will hurry past things that I want to sketch. 

*Photo: Tahiti Tourisme

Most of the people I've gotten into contact with on the islands so far have been very receptive to my project. Last year I came across the book Tahiti Beyond the Post Card: Place, Power, and Everyday Life (Culture, Place, and Nature) by Miriam Kahn that talked about all of the things that interested me about the country and the way tourism effects how the culture is perceived and how it influences the growth and change of the culture. Miriam was kind enough to put me into contact with Dorotea who runs the important Fare Pote'e Mavea Huahine. She will be teaching me about Polynesian culture and their past. Also, all of the places that I am staying at (with the exception of 1 night) are family lodgings and pensions. This means that I'll be staying  on the property of Polynesian families and will have close contact with them, and also use of a kitchen. The kitchen is important since a cheap meal can set you back at least $17. Lucky for me I can live off of instant oatmeal, tropical fruit, beans and nuts. Also being that it is a colony of France (yes a real colony with an elected Governor as a representative) there are always baguettes and good cheese around. Also, there are banana, mango, grapefruit, guava, coconut and passion fruit trees that grow in the wild so I plan on stocking up when I'm out hiking but there are fruit stands around as well if this proves to be untrue. 


All of this information that I am gathering will be used to create a large body of work about landscape of the Polynesian islands and will be shown around galleries in MN and include artist talks about the process and Polynesian culture. 

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