Greg Semu speaks about his art practice as a photographer and the relationship between Pacific Island artists and museum's - which he referenced in an installation work made for Body Pacifica, a collaboration between the Australian Museum, Casula Powerhouse Arts Center and several contemporary Pacific artists.
My name is Greg Semu, I’m a photographer originally born in New Zealand, Auckland to be precise. My ancestral or spiritual home is Samoa. I’ve been living in France for the last 10 years and I’ve currently relocated to Sydney, Australia. The work that I’ve created for the Casula Powerhouse Exhibition and as a response to the Australian Museum’s collection is called The Three Heads of John the Baptist. It’s distantly related to the collection. It’s about colonialism and cultural reappropriation displacement and acknowledgement.
Head hunting was a valid cultural practice and for my work there was, apart from tattooing, no other greater body adornment than that head of your enemy around your waist. So this is where I’m going with that. There’s also religious and political references in the work, but I won’t explain it. I think it’s better to leave it unexplained and let the audience discover those, or make those connections themselves, mentally and spiritually. We can’t ignore that fact that these artefacts are in existence today because the museums have made the effort to preserve them.
But, at the same time, even the artefacts have been preserved, the people have died. Museums have antiquities; they’re not in the business of preserving cultures. I mean not preserving them in the contemporary sense. They’re in the business of collecting items and to give the item validity and value, something has to die. As an artist I’m interested in creating dialogues and putting light on issues and subject matters and creating a dialogue. With a dialogue it’s like two people are talking about something, as opposed to one person saying this is right and this is wrong.
I do a lot of re-enacting of political histories, colonialism. It’s kind of reflected in the museums, there’s a romanticism of these works which is kind of nice on one side, but at the same time there’s a coldness. The spirit’s been removed from these artefacts, so I’m looking at recreating colonial history and just re-evaluating it from today. I’m not trying to say who was wrong or right, I’m just saying let’s look at it today from contemporary eyes and from contemporary minds. Coming up with new conclusions, as opposed to just reading the generic stereotypical anthropologist’s attitude, or whatever that we have to read because we use the same sources.
Last Updated: 1 December 2011
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