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The exhibition Statuesque Anarchy opened at Enjoy Gallery on Cuba Street on March 9, marking the first time the prolific FAFSWAG, an LGBTQI+ Pacific arts collective from South Auckland, had a showing in our neck of the woods.
Witch Bitch is a sub-group of FAFSWAG made up of artists Sione Monu, Pati Solomona Tyrell, and Manu Vea. Together with curator Tanu Gago, they performed Statuesque Anarchy as part of Tū whakahīhī e Te Whanganui-ā-Tara 2017.
Statuesque Anarchy is an activation: involving a live performance and a video installation. On Thursday’s opening night, the Witch Bitch trio watched from the staircase above us, with foreboding eyes, as we entered the gallery. Tyrell held a salu, Monu a ili, and Vea a sapelu — all much bigger, more majestic, than their life-size versions. This was their space now.
The artists became aitu. Or was it the other way around? The beauty of this show was that each prop, each chant, each monologue, each costume, straddled the line of humanity and divinity. It was jarring, and rightfully so.
Fa’avae i le Atua Sāmoa. Sāmoa was founded on God.
Pre-colonial spirituality in the Pacific was (and still is) often framed as “savagery” while post-colonial/post-conversion spirituality is “enlightenment”. The gender spectrum and fluid sexual orientation have been put firmly in the savage category. Witch Bitch seeks an understanding of the destructive legacy of this framing and, more importantly, move toward decolonisation.
Any real understanding of ourselves and our existing cultures calls for an attempt to understand colonialism and what it did and is still doing to us.
— Albert Wendt, 1978 (Towards A New Oceania).
Saturday night saw a showcase of the wider FAFSWAG collective, featuring work from Monu, Tyrell, Vea, and Gago, as well as the multitalented visual media artist Mahia Jermaine Dean, and the fucking gorgeous Moe Laga, fresh off her TEDx Manukau debut, and other members of the collective.
The showcase started with Tyrell reprising the role of aitu and this time there was a musical accompaniment. Tyrell’s siva was graceful and expressive, with the eyes following the hands as all good siva dancers have been taught to do, and was an early highlight of the showcase.
The next part of the show was comprised of vignettes from the collective. Monu’s vignette on the underwhelming adventures on Grindr was juxtaposed by the all-powerful aitu Monu and the intuitive stardust that is Sione. Vea’s poetry was inspired by his grandmother, the great teacher of pettiness, and the formidable Divas of De La Salle. Vea’s charm lay as much in his unassuming candor with the audience as it did with the words of the poems. Dean’s enthralling Takeover of the CBD and Laga’s hilarious and insightful monologues were also highlights of the showcase, as well as Laga’s foray with URBAN THREADS, the coolest coven in the fight against fast fashion and body-policing, giving us the greatest IG bio line in history: “why would I want to be classy when we’re not even in the same class?”
The literal cost of not doing this work is human life.
—Tanu Gago, 2017.
One of the last vignettes shown was a piece by collective member Jaycee. The piece highlighted the systemic discrimination and pervasive violence that trans women of colour face. In Pacific spaces the “performance of femininity” is still widely considered comedic — take the ever-present Aunty Tala character. There is a targeted violence against trans women under the guise of religious or moral concerns, an issue with devastating consequences. FAFSWAG’s work in promoting Pacific LGBTQI+ experiences is important and revolutionary.
For all our sakes, we need to do better. We must do better.
Say her name in your thoughts.
— Samoa Fa’afafine Association to Samoa Observer, 2016 (“We need to do better, we must do better”).
Statuesque Anarchy was a night of constant highlights and a masterclass in interdisciplinary artistic expression. The vignettes were wonderfully created, the activation gave me goosebumps down my back, the spoken words were enchanting, the voguing was fabulous, and the Aitu Ball sneak peak finale was fire. My heart is full and thankful.