Sunameke performed A'inaisa as a response to the cultural compromise we are asked to make on a daily basis in regards to our way of thinking about our bodies and how our tattoo practise has been and is affected.
Moale wrote 'Gini Goada Gini Auka - Stand Strong Stand Firm' as a response to her part in the A'inaisa performance installation at Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art for APT8 in November, 2015. - Julia Gray
‘How does it feel knowing that there are hundreds of eyes searching your body for an answer or explanation?’
Is similar to asking,
‘How does it feel to be told who you are and what you should do?’
How does it feel?
I often feel people need me to explain myself – Why are you wearing that? What’s with your name? Why is your skin that colour? Why are you acting that way? How is she your grandmother?
But most of the time, people don’t even ask. They make judgments on first contact. They call us, “savages” for wearing only grass skirts, “abusers” for marking young girls with the beautiful patterns of their Bubu’s and “immodest” because we wear our clothing through the markings on our skin, not material or cloth.
Performing at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, was not only a privilege and an honor, but it was also an opportunity to recognise the labels of caution and danger that are plastered on our Papuan culture – our “savage”, “abusing” and “immodest” culture.
When I told people I was performing at the art gallery, they shared my excitement with innocent smiles. But when I followed with, I’m wearing our traditional clothing, meaning, exposing my body with traditional tattoos, their excitement broke with questions and “jokes” like, ‘Are you getting paid?’, ‘Is this the first stage into becoming a prostitute?’ And ‘Can I charge for a lap dance too?’ ‘Are you ACTUALLY going to do THAT?’ To say I was offended and completely humiliated wouldn’t suffice. However I ignored these comments, because I came to realise the entire performance was meant to demolish these stereotypes.
Yes, according to Western Colonial society our backs and our chests are exposed. But within our Papuan culture it wasn’t once considered “exposure”, to be tattooed is to be covered. What may seem immodest in our Australian culture is considered beautiful in Papua New Guinean culture – wearing a grass skirt, bilas and proudly displaying our reva reva. I was frustrated by people’s inability to understand this, but how could they understand? This is outside of their experience. They are often unwilling to take the time to wait, listen and learn why our definition of ‘beautiful’ and ‘modesty’ are different – not wrong but different, but because it is made to be wrong it clashes, so often.
The performance was meant to make a statement and based on the reaction from the crowd I believe it did. As I wore my traditional bilas, my grass skirt, my reva reva and walked throughout the gallery I felt people’s eyes following me. Some of these eyes contained judgment... ‘What is she doing?’ ‘Does she have a shirt on?’ ‘ Is she actually topless?’ ‘What’s that on her body?’. I led the crowd to the main foyer, where I stood firm. Blank faced. Proud. There was no doubt. I was proud.
The women behind me sung songs of lament, mourning the loss, the presence of judgment on our shared culture. The atmosphere grew quiet and upsetting, people stopped general conversation to stare at the young white girl in traditional clothes – “exposing herself”. With no words exchanged the caution tape was wrapped around my body, it represented the plastering of stereotypes upon Papuan culture. On the Papuan Woman’s Tattooed body. As the caution tape came closer to my neck, then to my mouth, tears rolled down the eyes of not only the women behind me but those in the crowd. The impact was real and hard hitting.
I think I felt that people understood our unspoken act. I hope people could understand the hurt often felt as we are plastered with stereotypes and judgments and told what we will or won’t be allowed to wear. It was a significant moment, not only for the statement we were making, but also the ability to stand as a light skinned young woman being acknowledged as a Papua New Guinean. No one was able to tell me I wasn’t a Papuan, and that made me feel strong. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. To be apart of it was an honor. To make the statement and make people understand was not only a privilege but it was more importantly a duty. We had to perform this way to make a statement, whether people felt uncomfortable or not didn’t matter.
Too often we are the ones who are made to feel uncomfortable, not only then, but in the past. Sometimes people need to step into someone else’s shoes or in our case...into our bare footprints. Take a moment to understand when we dress and act this way we do it standing firm and proud. There is no place for judgments.
Moale James 2015